Monday, September 15, 2014

Your Personal Dresscode: Building a Wardrobe When Living Paycheck To Paycheck

The children are finally back to school. You've outfitted them with their clothes and supplies and now can take a much needed break!  (If you're a smart shopper, you may have picked up a bunch of those school supplies and ferretted those away for stocking stuffers later in December ( Now that everyone else is taken care of, have  you looked at your wardrobe lately?
Dior's New Look (Google Images)

As moms we are often the last people on our own list to get our wants and needs met.

I realize you probably are or feel like you are tapped out after outfitting the kids, but the reality is that September is one of those milestones for all of us. Its an unofficial "renewal" or "rebirth" where we begin the year anew. September is the perfect time for us to revamp and renew ourselves and we can begin with what we wear.

Don't think what you wear matters? Au contre. Every time you walk outside of your home, you are representing not only yourself but your family. Many people you encounter in a day may never talk to you, but based on what you are wearing, will make observations and tailor how they treat  you based on your appearance. If you are dressing frumpy, the message you are projecting to the world is that you don't care enough about your appearance to put any effort into it. The unconscious message the public perceives is that, if you don't care what you look like, then there is no reason for them to care about you or your opinions because obviously you don't care about them either. Really do you think it's appropriate to go outside with the description "JUICY" written across your bum? Or worse yet, pajama bottoms in public that basically shout, "I was too lazy to get dressed this morning?" Is that really the message you want to send out?

I didn't think so.

I'm no fashionista... not by a long shot. But I have had several decades now of experience and worked in jobs as diverse as runnning a register to representing a multi-million dollar company to CEOs, presidents and salespeople from all over the globe. I've seen the decade of the 1970's where women where encouraged to dress like men to get ahead (what were we thinking, they wouldn't notice we were women?) to the neon clothes, legwarmers and the power suits and bows (yes power bows) of the 1980's. I learned how to interview in the 1990's and worked my way through the remainder of the next two decades. So, to quote the song lyric, "I know a little... baby I can guess the rest"....

And for most of the time, I was living paycheck to paycheck.

Here is what I've learned through all these years: when you are living on a budget you need to develop a strategy to build a all encompassing wardrobe.

How to Build a Killer Wardrobe, One Paycheck at a Time

Audrey Hepburn
1. Think Audrey Hepburn, not Lady GaGa..A classic wardrobe is always your best bet when funds are limited and your wardrobe has to cover a multitude of life scenerios. It's called classic for a reason and that is that these are well cut clothes in shades of navy, black, brown, grey and burgundy that can take you from the parent-teacher's conference, an interview, meeting with the bank to grocery shopping. They can be dressed up or down and mixed and matched.

2. Ammortize...When considering purchasing a garment, determine how much wear you are realistically going to get from it. Is this a piece you are going to wear once a week or something you'll wear only a few times a year. If you are going to wear this every week, maybe that $40 is worth it for a nice pair of pants verses $85 for a dress you'll wear at Christmas and put away for the year.

3. How Well Made is the Garment?  No matter how cheap a piece of clothing is, it is never worth taking home if the garment is cheaply made. Hold the fabric between your fingers, does it feel substantial or does it feel inferior? Does the pattern meet up at the seams or is it obviously misaligned? How well has it been sewn together? Are there obvious threads hanging off it that should be clipped?

4. Does it Need to be Dry Cleaned? Dry cleaning is not only a money suck, it's a time

suck. I often refer to it as having to go break my clothes out of "clothing jail". When considering a purchase, be realistic with your lifestyle. I own very few things that need to be dry cleaned because I simply don't have the time. In writing this, I just realized I have my husband's dry cleaning to pick up. I had completely forgotten about that and I'm sure he has too. In general, it's just not worth the time if you can avoid it.

5. Not Everything Has to Be Brand New...Ebay has really changed the way most of us think about buying clothing. Growing up, I avoided wearing hand-me-downs like the plague. Going to the Goodwill was completely off my list as I hated those clothes (it was the 1970's-1980's so lets face it, there was a lot of polyester so that is part of it). Nowadays, it's not uncommon to make a purchase of clothing on Ebay that is gently or nearly new. One of my favorite brands of clothing is Coldwater Creek. Even on sale I really can't afford them. On Ebay, however that is often a completely different ballgame and now my local Goodwill carries brandname, often designer clothing for mere pennies. I've bought a nice leather jacket for as little as $15 and my favorite shirt that I wear about once a week cost me $4. The best thing? No one has any idea these aren't from a major department store and now it's stylish to be "green". Also with people buying ripped jeans and distressed jackets, you are now styling and authentic.

6. Shop Your Closet...  And have someone else help you. Sometimes we wear the same thing over and over again out of habit. They say you only wear 20% of your wardrobe 80% of the time so now is the time for new eyes. You bought these things for a reason but maybe it is time to have someone else shake things up. Have your husband pick out something he'd like to see  you in and something to wear with it. Have your daughter do the same. You may not always like the outfit they put together but it may be enough to get your creative juices flowing and see a piece in a new light.

An interesting accessory can make an outfit.
7. When You Can't Buy, Accessorize.   While you may not have the funds to do a complete make over, try adding something to the outfits you have that you may have never done before. A scarf when you've never worn a scarf before, a steam punk necklace with a conservative shirt. Something that brings new life to your outfit can make you feel brand new.

From Google Images.

8. Go To The Mall.  In this instance your not there to buy, you are there for reconnaissance. Window shop and see what the upcoming styles are and how to add them to your wardrobe. The mall windows are great inspiration and as they are in your neighborhood, are more likely to reflect the taste of the local culture. 

In this world, you never know when you are going to have to get a job. Medical issues arrive, divorce happens or maybe you've decided to go back to work after the kids have left. Maybe, like me, you've always held a job outside of the house. Regardless, you need to always have a navy blue interview suit at the ready. I've seen people wear horrendous things to a job interview. You are trying to sell yourself as the perfect candidate for a job: reliable, trustworthy, responsible. So you carefully choose, A JEAN SKIRT???? Jeans are for casual wear, wearing them to an interview is telling the interviewer that you don't take the position seriously. If you aren't taking the position seriously, why are you there? Never forget that they have to sell you to their boss as the best candidate and why, so they aren't going to recommend someone that may make them look bad. Your interview suit should in generally be blue as psychological tests seem to indicate that most people view blue as stable, reliable and trustworthy. (Why do you think standard checks are generally blue?) It's a color that is almost universally liked. You can get away with black or brown, but often these colors seem really harsh in an office environment.

10. If You Like it, Buy Several and In Many Colors. As a mom, you know that the first time you wear a white shirt will probably be the last time you wear it. You'll end us spilling something on it that will stain it the first time. If I like a cut of a shirt, I'll buy it in several colors because as soon as you decide you need another one, you won't be able to buy it again. Stock up when you can. Use layers to dress it up and look different.

Ultimately, the best fashion advice is own who you are and relay that in your confidence. There is almost nothing so fashionable or sexy as confidence. Own who you are and what you've done. Few of us have beautiful figures that we can dress like a supermodel but then, we've done something that is magnificent, we've brought forth human life! We manage households. Some work outside of the home. Some work in the home. We raise children. We cherish our relationships. Fundamentally we are the caretakers of our sanctuaries and the caretakers of the future generation. We are fashionably awesome.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Surprise in the Basement!

When you live in an old house like my, 1867 house, you sometimes discover really neat things.

Today was one of those days.

I was canning and and I knew that one of the previous "women of the house" had left all her canning jars in the basement. The one that did this lived here in the 1970's to early '80's so I figured I'd probably have a bunch of either normal jars and/or maynaise jars. Money is tight this week and I've been canning up a storm so I thought I'd check out her jars to see if there were any I could wash up and use.

Well, there were some mayonnaise and assorted bottles that obviously were condiment jars at one time (and those cannot be reused to can)  ... and then some of these! Aren't these neat? I researched the Ball jars online at this lovely blog,, and it appears that some of these may be from as far back as the 1920-1930's! I so totally love that! The jazz age is one of my favorite times in history, I love the Art Deco style, and now I own a little piece of it. Too cool.

Now the down side, most of the jars in the basement are also the clamp lid style and having never canned with these, I did some research online as well only to discover that it's generally not recommended. The information I discovered here:

indicated that it generally isn't safe as old jars may have chips or cracks that would prevent a good seal or may actually crack under the pressure of canning. Bummer. I seem to have a lot of these. If anyone has had success canning with old bail style jars, please let me know. Also most of mine are rusted, is there anywhere that you can replace the wire on these?
If not, I'll need to find a lot of craft projects using bail style jars.

While we are on the topic of canning.. and because I've been up since 9am doing it today, let me give you a tip I was reminded of recently that I had forgotten. If you can tomaotes, listen up. We all know the biggest time suck when canning tomatoes is the time you spend boiling the skins off of them. About a year ago, I was watching Rachel Ray's 30 mins. cooking show and she roasted the tomatoes in the off season to bring out their flavor. "Eureka!" I thought. While she wasn't intending this as a canning trick, this certainly works and allows you to peel as many tomatoes as you can fit on a baking sheet at one time.

Line you sheet with tin foil. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Wash your tomatoes and make an X in them just as you would if you were boiling tomatoes. Now put the entire thing in the oven for 20-30 mins. After that time remove them. You have just now loosened up all those tomato skins AT ONE TIME! Just now cool, peel and process! This is one of those, why he heck didn't I think of that! It's brilliant and works wonderfully. Careful lifting them out of the oven, in my case 30 tomatoes get a bit heavy. But isn't that a wonderful thing?

Happy canning season from my kitchen to yours!


Monday, September 1, 2014

Your Friend, Mr. Pressure Canner

I have an addiction.

I mean a really bad addiction.

A canning addiction. I know, ::hanging my head down in shame::... it's a problem, but... I can quit anytime I want to ....

I swear this time of year you could put anything down in front of me and I'll figure out a way of putting it in a jar and on the pantry shelf for the winter. By the end of October I'll swear that, "I'm not going to do as much canning next year"... then August rolls around and the cycle begins anew. My husband laughs at me when I say it. After almost 20 years together he knows the drill and knows I'll back at it again next year.

Many of us are used to water bath canning. It's the method that our mothers and grandmothers may have used to do all their canning. It's a good method and one that I employ when I only have enough produce to do a few cans.

But if  you do serious canning, like I do, a water bath canner takes too long and too much of your time. Consider investing in a pressure canner.

**My canner is from Mirro.

Oh... no... come back... don't run away.

I know you have family stories about pressure cookers exploding potatoes all over the ceiling at the family's holiday meal. We do too. But pressure canners aren't scary I guarantee it. I've canned for approximately 16 years with my pressure canner and not once even popped the pressure gauge. It's like anything, use it and you'll gain a familiarity with it.

Why pressure can? Well for the first part,  you can actually can up to **22 pints in a pressure canner... at ONE TIME! It saves a lot of time to fill that canner and walk away for 20-30 mins and have everything done. It's also one of the only deemed "safe" home canning methods the USDA recommends*. (It's also a bit scary some of the other methods I had never heard of before, steam sealing your cans in  the dishwasher???)

And while it is big and bulky, it's actually not that hard.

A good seal is paramount to building pressure in your
canner. Always make sure your gasket is in good shape.

First, make sure your canner is clean and the gasket  is not cracked but nice an pliable. This is my canner, it's over sixteen years old and the gasket is as good as the day I bought it. The gasket is what helps to build the pressure in the pressure cooker by creating a good seal to prevent air leakage. Ultimately, this pressure transfers to your  jars to make sure they seal safe and sound.

Secondly and most important, make sure that the vent in the top of your pressure canner is clear and free of any blockages or obstructions. I typically accomplish this by blowing through the vent to make sure everything is clear.

Make sure this is clear to relieve pressure.

This vent comes with a little gauge called a "petcock". You are supposed to use it to gauge how much pressure is in the canner, 5lbs, 10lbs, 15lbs, etc. You put it on and then time the number of times it "jiggles" in a minute to gauge the pressure in your canner.

I don't ever use it. I know that for my pressure canner, once I get it hot (on high) for the entire water inside to be hot, I turn it to med-high and it's good to go for any of my canning. Until you get the feel of using the pressure canner use it, it's a good precaution, but I boil mine long enough that I rarely have a problem with them sealing.

If the pressure ever did get too much, this little warning plug will pop up.
It's kind of like the little temperature gauge that is in your holiday turkey,
although you don't want this one to pop out. It's your safety gauge.
Fill about 3/4 of the way up.


To fill this behemoth, I take it to the bathroom and fill it with the shower spray nozzle. It's the fastest way outside of a hose and I can set it to hot to start speeding up the process.

Fill your canner about 3/4 of the way up. You need some air space at the top to build pressure so you'd never want to fill it completely up.

After  you fill it with the water, you must add about 1/4 cup of vinegar. Apparently this is to prevent mineral deposites on your canning lids and inside the canner. I always thought it helped cut down on the bacteria that may be in the water as we know we can clean with vinegar but apparently it's to protect the canner.

Once it's filled, place in your "shelf" or "tray". This shelf creates an airspace underneath your jars so that your jars aren't directly on the bottom of the canner where they could get the direct heat. If they were in direct contact with the heat source, they could possibly explode. That would be bad. 
Here is where you are going to learn from my experience.
Buy a buffet range. Just some little one or two burner affair. It'll cost you about $30-$35 or so (at least mine did eons ago). Pressure canners get EXTREMELY hot. (So if you have little ones, the kitchen should be a no kid zone during this process.) I've done my canning at night only to wake up in the morning and the canner is STILL WARM!
When I first started canning in my home, I did it on the enamel stove that came with the house. After the first year, we replaced the stove. The pressure canner got so hot, it flaked off the enamel on the stove. (The stove was old and crummy anyway so no big loss but still!) A small buffet burner will prevent any such issues. I've had mine for many, many years (about 15) and its still going strong. It's more acceptable to cause damage to something that you haul out of the closet one a year then damage your expensive stove.
After this point, you just place your canner on the burner, put the lid on tight and wait for the canner to get hot. I usually start processing my produce at this point. Once I'm ready to can, the canner is up to temperature. If it appears too hot, I put it down to medium high but that is about as low as I get. Most recipes I process at 20-30 minutes just to be safe. In general, most if not all of my cans get sealed. It's actually extremely rare one doesn't.
The pressure canner gives you a piece of mind that your finished product will be safe for your family to consume because it's a more reliable method for getting the majority if not all of your cans to seal. It's not that hard to use and it is a good investment for your canning dollars as it lasts for years to come.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

My Saucy Little Summer


While my heart maybe in the homemade, my life is definitely the hectic. Your's too?


That is why I rely on sauces to make a quick meal something really special.

The garden in it's full glory and the tomatoes are just starting to come in. There is basil to make into pesto and chimichurri is going to be the newest sauce added the  repertoire. These sauces are invaluable to me during the winter months. Coming home to a big crockpot full of bean soup with three pesto cubes thrown in it turns it from "just supper" to something really gourmet. In a pinch, boil pasta, drain it, put in a little oil and 3 or 4 cubes of pesto and dinner is ready.

So here are two of the prime sauces I use to get dinner on the table when I don't have a lot of time to cook:

Fresh from the garden,  you can actually pronounce every ingredient!

Spaghetti sauce is one of the first sauces I learned to make when I moved here many moons ago. It's also one of the sauces I'm teaching my son to make. With a large Italian population in Rochester, it's almost a prerequisite that you learn how to make a fresh sauce. Take a look at the ingredients, see any cans? No. This is straight from the garden to the pot. After making this on a regular basis, try a jar of can sauce. It's definitely not the same. I grew up eating a lot of jarred sauces and now I just really can't. They taste "musty" at best. Even the sauce I canned doesn't taste that way. Makes you really start to wonder how fresh and what is in that sauce you just bought from the grocery.

Please forgive the shadow.
Olive oil
1 large onion
3-4 cloves of garlic
2-3 quarts of tomatoes (at least) chopped
1/4c -1/2 c wine (red or white, your choice)
2 Tbsp sugar
2-4 Tbsp fresh basil and oregano (I just eyeball it)
Salt and pepper
OPTIONAL: mushrooms, garden veggies.

I'm going to let you in on an ongoing argument my spouse and I have. He likes a sweet sauce, I like a savory sauce. The difference in the two is not the sugar. It's the onion. If you like a sweet sauce, add more onion. If you like more of a savory sauce, less.
No being a big onion fan myself, less is more in this case.

Heat a large sauce pot on the stove and pour in about 3 Tbsp of olive oil (remember, hot pan, cold oil food doesn't stick (per the Frugal Gourmet).Chop your onion in fine pieces and cook them in the pan until they become transluscent. Just before they reach that stage completely, put in your garlic. Garlic burns easy so you don't want to start it until your onions are almost done or it'll be burned by the time you get there.... and there really isnt' anything worse then burned garlic. If you are adding any garden produce, add it at this point until it's crisp tender.
From this...

Now add your wine, sugar and tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes begin to slump, maybe 5 mins. Add your herbs and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve over your favorite pasta, chicken, etc.

To this .. in half an hour or less.


Pesto is the one sauce I can't live without. During the growing season I make up a batch about once a week freezing it in ice cube trays and then transferring them to large freezer storage bags. Pesto can be used in just about any recipe that calls for fresh basil. It shows up in Italian as readily as my bean soup. I love it.

Very simple ingredients help to make any dish gourmet.

Bunch of fresh basil            
2-3 tsp of minced garlic
Olive oil
1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup of your favorite nuts

Place all ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor and grind to combine.

As it grinds, add olive oil to create a paste.

Stop the food processor and scrape down sides as you go. Take this time to add more basil if you'd like.

Transfer to your ice cube trays to freeze into cubes.

A little bit of prep in the summer makes those winter days a little nicer and easier to deal with. A bit of summer sunshine on a bleak February day can get you through until spring comes again.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

You Know, ...Mr. McGregor Has a Compelling Point....

From Google Images.
As a child, I loved Beatrice Potter's Peter Rabbit stories. Loved Little Peter, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Mrs. Rabbit. I cheered for Peter to outsmart Mr. McGregor and his cat and get out of his garden. When I was expecting my son, I made sure I saved my small green book for him that I loved as a child and decorated his room with a Peter Rabbit plaque.

Lately however, I'm starting to see things from Mr. McGregor's point of view....

When I was a new homeowner, I had lovely visions of creating a house with lots of gardens. My first year here, I placed a garden behind my garage as it was the best spot for it as the sunniest part of my yard was also my leechfield as obviously not desirable. So I planted and tended, weeded as much as I could and expected to have a bounty of produce for all my work.

Instead I discovered my nemesis, an evil woodchuck.

This little brown monster wouldn't be content with just eating one plant or even two. No... he had to take a bite out of EVERY LAST PLANT OUT THERE! He even ate the leaves off my pumpkin plants! Pumpkin plants! Do you know how scratchy and painful that should have been. I swear  he did it just to be mean. There was completely no other reason.

What I could salvage.
As I had no intention of repeating that experiment, I moved my garden closer to the house. For the last sixteen years everything was fine until this week. That little monster has moved his hovel right under my diningroom window. Yesterday I saw his squatty, snotty self out in my newly weeded garden. This morning I awoke to my bean plants massacred all over my garden, he just plowed through it! I rescued what I could but I hope at a minimum it gave him indigestion.


Now I am an animal lover. I've taken in several cats, had fish and grew up on a farm with cows, horses, dogs, cats and chickens. But I now thoroughly understand why Mr. McGregor would chase young Peter with a hoe. Here the guy is just trying to raise food for his family only to have some little vandal sneak into his garden and run away with is family's food he's tried so hard to raise. I totally understand Bill Murray's character in Caddyshack trying endless to destroy his little pest. I though about trapping that little brown vandal but he's smart, strong and terribly fast so I'm not sure he'd fall for that. Any suggestions would be helpful. If you have any ideas please post them in the comments,

                                             Mr. McGregor totally had a point!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Jump Rope Jingles

The Asphalt Feared Me.                           

From search on "Google Images"
I was a Jump Rope Monster.

Me and My Clothesline Ruled Recess.

Well, not really....

I was an avid jump-roper in elementary school. I used to absolutely love it. With the news that my elementary school has closed, it brought back a lot of memories of that much beloved school.

 I used to bring a clothesline which we would sometimes wet to add weight and we would either double it or extend it the full length and see how many people we could get in the rope at one time.

But I digress...

One thing that I can't pass down is the jump-rope songs my friends and I used to jump rope to (I have a boy) . If you have daughters, have you passed them down to your girls? Did you have jump rope songs?  What were they? What found memories do you have of jump roping with  your friends. We had a variety. If you didn't, here are some you can use that we loved.

This one gets it's fun because each sentence's ending begins the next...

Miss Suzy Had a Baby

From search on "Google Images"
Miss Suzy had a baby, she named it Tiny Tim,
She put him in the bathtub to see if he could swim,                           
He drank up all the water, he ate up all the soap,
He tried to eat the bathtub, but it wouldn't go down his throat.

Miss Suzy called the doctor,
The doctor called the nurse,
The nurse called the lady with the alLigator purse
The doctor said it's measles,
Mumps said the nurse,
Chicken pox said the lady with the alligator purse.

A dollar for the doctor,
A dollar for the nurse,
A dollar for the lady with the alligator purse.

Miss Suzy was so popular she had two songs. This was the favorite because of the double entendre. We had no idea of that phrase was, but we loved the song because of it.

Miss Suzy Had a Tugboat

Miss Suzy had a tugboat, the tugboat had a bell,
Miss Suzy went to heaven, the tugboat went to
...H-E-L-L-O operator, there was a piece of glass,
Miss Suzy fell upon it and broke her little
ASK me no more questions, I'll tell you no more lies.
Miss Suzy told me all of this the day before she ...
DYED her hair in purple, she dyed her hair in pink,
She dyed her hair in polka dots and washed it down the sink I think.

From search on "Google Images"
Jolly Peppers

High, low, jollypeppers

Sleepy, salty, jolly peppers
High, low, jolly peppers
Sleepy, salty, jolly peppers

High = bring the rope up about six inches and the jumper has to jump over it
Low = rope just swings side to side, for some reason we always called this bluebells
Jolly peppers = hot peppers. The rope goes really fast
Sleepy = jump with your eyes closed
Salty =Rope spins the oppsite way, we called this "backdoors"  (counterclockwise) and you have to jump in.

24 Robbers

Not last night but the night before, 24 robbers came knocking at my door...
As I jumped out (jump out of the swinging rope) to let them in, (Come in "backdoors", see above)
Asked them what they wanted and this is what they said,
"Spanish dancers turn all the round, Spanish dancers touch the ground,
Spanish dancers go upstairs, Spanish dancers say your prayers,
Spanish dancers turn off the light, Spanish dancers spell goodnight
G-O-O-D-N-I-G-H-T, Goodnight"

I have no idea why we were invoking Spanish dancers but we didn't question it.

Then there was always the tried and true, each grade had a different action but I can't for the life of me remember them all. I just remember that third grade was "bluebells" (see above), 11th grade was hot peppers and twelve you had to come in "backdoors".

From search on "Google Images"


S-C-H-Olly, Olly L Spells school and out (jump out of the spinning rope)...

I don't remember what grades you did what action. Getting old I guess...

What were some of your songs/jump rope jingles that you remember?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

If You Can Color in a Coloring Book, You Can Paint

Tole Painting For Your Home

 Painting is so much fun. I think you'll enjoy it too. Tole painting allows you to create really
beautiful and unique things for your home and makes wonderful gifts for friends and family. So grab your surface, your patterns, your paint and your brushes and lets begin this adventure together!

Your first task is to find a pattern you like and determine what surface you are going to put it on. For demonstration purposes, I choose this Halloween piece because I love the quaint, nostalgic vibe this pattern gives off. It feels like you just stumbled upon a box of old vintage Halloween decorations from the 1940-1950's and, you lucky duck, get to take them home... but reality then sets in that that's not the case so if you want it, you got to make it. I also choose this pattern because it has a cool technique that you can use to "age" things or easily make "snow" that you don't usually get with patterns.* Feel free to pick any pattern or surface you want because we are showing you more the technique here than a specific project.

Prepping Your Surface

Once you've chosen your surface,  you are going to need to prep it. In this case I'm using wood, so that means I have to sand it and then remove any sanding residue with a tack cloth. If you've never seen or used a tack cloth, they are typically found in the paint department of any diy or big box store and typically run you about $1.89 for two. These are really necessary as you don't want to get painting only to have globs of sawdust in your paint. Essentially they are simply a gummy, coated piece of cheesecloth that helps you pull up the sawdust without wetting it. WATER IS THE ENEMY TO RAW WOOD. Do not simply rinse your wooden piece. It will cause the grain to rise and then it's a lot of sanding to get the wood usable again.

Most Important Step: Seal your surface.

Now if you are using something other than wood, the next step would be your first. After cleaning your surface, you must seal it. Sealing your surface prevents paint seepage on porous surfaces, prevents wood from warping or plumping up the grain in your wooden pieces and gives your smooth surfaces "tooth" for your paint to adhere to. NEVER skimp or skip sealing your surface, you'll be upset if you do.

Neat trick: To keep your wet painted
piece from marking your surface or
getting stuck to the paper, set down
some plastic bottle caps to create a
"ledge" for your work to rest on while
you work on it.

After the sealant dries, it's time to determine what size your piece is going to end up. Rarely if ever is your piece in the book the same size as your surface. Here we have to figure out what is visually pleasing to your eye and what size you need to reduce or enlarge your piece to comfortably fit your surface. The math is relatively easy on this one. If you are reducing as I am here, Take the total size of the design in your pattern as drawn either vertically or horizontally, depending upon which size is most crucial. Then take your surface and estimate about at least an inch of "breathing space" on either size and this is the finished size you want the piece. If you are reducing the pattern, take the smaller number and divide by the larger size. If you are increasing the size, divide the larger number by the smaller number.


Once we've reduced or enlarged our pattern we have to make it usable for transferring to our surface. Using tracing paper, carefully copy all the lines in ink pen. Once transferred, we need to apply this to our piece. If you are working on a dark piece as I am here, use white graphite transfer paper found in any craft store. If your surface is light, you can use black. Make sure it's graphite paper and not carbon, carbon doesn't erase well.

Position your piece on the surface of choice and when you have it where  you want it, tape it down with painter's tape at one end. Gently slide your graphite paper, copying side facing your piece, between your surface and the pattern. At this point, just trace the outlines of  your pattern, not all the details. There is no need to transfer all the details at this point as you'll just be painting over it.

If your surface is dark, I highly suggest at least two coats of white paint to fill in your area. With dark backgrounds, your paint can appear darker or "muddy" because of the surface underneath it. By basing that area I
n white before you paint, you allow those
colors to "pop".

       Flat Angled             Small Flat            Round Liner

Using a brush to fit the area, start your paint in the largest portion of the area you are filling in and brush it out to thinly fill in the edges of your piece. If this is your first painting piece, the main three brushes you'll need are:

1. Flat angled brush: This will allow you to fill in large areas and also help you when we
    come to shading, especially edges.

2. Small flat: This gets into small places that the flat angled brush can't get to.
3. Small round brush. This is the brush you are going to use for a lot of liner work.

Additionally don't forget that a brush has two ends, the brush end and the handle end. Need to make a round dot on a project? Turn your brush around, dip it in paint and dot. Instant circle.

Now we need to talk about paint. For most of the work I do, I utilize acrylic paint. Some people work in oils but I find that acrylic is very easy to use, can be mixed with several mediums (fabric, candle, etc.) and dries fast. In home tole painting, we aren't going to get fancy with a palette either. Any washed Styrofoam packaging can be reused as your painting palette and when you are finished, toss it away!

The last tools you'll need are water, a paper towel and an old hairdryer for drying areas quickly.

Now it is time for what you came here for: PAINTING!

Base Coating

Base coating is just like coloring. You are filling in the spaces in between lines with the colors your pattern calls for. On your "palette" put a small amount of the paint your pattern calls for. Then taking the largest brush that will fill in the area without overshooting it, dab some paint on your brush and, starting inside the largest portion of the image, slowly fill in the void with the paint striving to pull the smallest amount of paint near the edge. What we are trying to avoid here is a "lip" that you can physically see and feel as it looks very "unprofessional".

 It will take at least two or more layers of paint to make your piece opaque so once it dries, add another until you are happy with the effect.

Use your liner brush to "write" any words. the trick here is to let the paint "glide" off the brush (make sure it is damp) and off the end rather than a brushing motion.





What Makes  Your Image Dimensional

Shading/highlighting is what brings your piece to life. Before you shade, everything is pretty much one dimensional but once you shade, you are adding perspective to your work.

Shading/highlighting is the same process just using different colors to suggest a light source on the work. It begins with a  damp brush. Damp, not wet. Dip your brush in water and then, taking your paper towel/old towel, pad it to a damp state. The water becomes a "floating medium" to pull your paint down the brush into nothingness. By wicking down the length of the brush, you create a more natural shading effect with no visible stopping point.

Dip only one side of your brush in the paint...
....then start "walking" the paint along your brush like so to distribute the paint along part of the length of your brush. It may take a couple of times to get an effect you like. If you do put it on the piece and it is too obvious, you can rinse your brush and with just a damp brush go over your shading to make the end of the shading less obvious.

Many or most patterns do not tell you where
to shade/highlight only what paints to use to do it. This is where pattern reading comes into play. Look at your pattern to determine
where the author shaded her/his finished piece to determine where your piece should be shaded.

Pattern reading is often necessary to determine where a
highlight or shading is to be put.


Once you are happy with the background shading, you can dry your piece with a hairdryer if you are ready to continue painting or let it air dry if you aren't in a rush.
Now begin the process again, but don't add the final details until you finish your basecoating.


Check that it transferred.

Begin base coating.

Finish base coating.



Add details.

Stand back and admire.

Optional Treatment: Fly Specking

Fly specking is an optional treatment that you can perform to your piece to "age" it or add snow or in this case stars. You can fly speck your entire piece or as in this case, use your tracing as a mask over portions of your work you don't want effected. Simply dip an old toothpaste brush tip in your paint of choice and, using your thumb, rake it across the bristles to flick small portions of paint on your piece to mimic stars/snow/age. The closer you get to the piece and the amount of paint on the brush will determine how large or small your spots are on the final piece.
So you see, it's not that hard and you definitely have the talent to make wonderful things for your home or gifts for your families. Try your hand at tole painting today. You'll find lots of decorative pattern books out there over many different subjects and once is perfect for you. Let me know how your piece turns out. I'm sure it'll be wonderful! Happy Painting!

* (This pattern is from "Of Signs & Seasons" by Jill Ankrom and it is still available here: )