2016 TSNEM (Try Something New Every Month): Year-End Summary

TSNEM 2016 collage

I joined the Try Something New Every Month challenge in January of this year. TSNEW is a very cool  challenge that Stephanie from Swoodson Says and Rebecca from Hugs Are Fun co-hosted. They had a list of suggested themes & communication was through a private Facebook group.

I signed up for TSNEM because I needed a good kick-in-the-pants to get me back into regular crafting. Making things, particularly in the world of textiles and craft, is really important to me. It brings me happiness and a sense of well-being that is different than pretty much anything else I have going on in my life. I currently have a full-time job in pharma sales and co-host Fuhmentaboudit, a weekly live podcast on fermentation, almost every Monday for the last four years. I wrote a book on fast fermented alcoholic beverages (Speed Brewing) in 2014 (60 different ferments going at a time that summer) that was published in 2015, got a major job promotion in the same time period that the book came out and started a gypsy brewing company with my now-husband in January of 2015. Oh, and I got married in October of 2015. So, it’s been a pretty crazy last few years and I really needed to answer that siren call of crafting.

That’s where TSNEM came in. I had not done an online-based, timely challenge like this before and it was pretty exciting. And it gave me exactly the push that I needed to bring crafting back into my life on a regular basis. Let’s take a look back at everything I tried this year (organized by month and suggested theme):

January – Quilting

I tried paper piecing 1/4″ hexies. I have done paper piecing and hand quilting before (years ago) but never anything this tiny. Blogged here. Upside: super portable and commuter friendly (I ride the subway, buses and ferries somewhere around 8-12 times every weekday so this is important) and pretty darn satisfying. Downside: I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel in my right hand after this and I’m pretty sure that this project contributed to it. I didn’t require surgery though I do wear a wrist brace every night but I don’t think I can go back to anything this small in the near future. I never did anything with this piece but that’s OK, it’s really the process of making that I seek.

Mini hexie piece


February- Tactile Craft; paper mache, clay, soap, candlemaking

I tried sculpting tiny creatures with Creative Paperclay.  I’ve worked with regular clay and polymer clay before but never paperclay. Holy cow, this was super fun. I freaking love Creative Paperclay now – it is super easy to work with, is inexpensive for small projects and air dries. After it dries, you can manipulate it by wetting it, carving it, sanding it and painting it. I got completely hooked on making these tiny creatures. This is a great project to do in front of the TV or while listening to an audiobook or podcast. I used some basic plastic pottery tools (similar to these) to sculpt the moist paperclay. After they air dried, I sanded, painted with inexpensive acrylic craft paint and finished with a matte sealer. Upside: fun and easy – this is a project for anyone. Sculpting might take some practice but it’s really fun to see something emerge from the paperclay. Downsides: not a commuter craft and while paperclay is perfect for small projects, I’m not sure how durable it is for larger pieces. I’d like to incorporate them into mini dioramas or jewelry or something but again, maybe in 2017? This was one of my favorite tries of the year and I will definitely be returning to paperclay in the future.

Mini Paperclay creatures

Tiny creatures

March- Painting

I didn’t stick to the theme on this one (and I painted the tiny creatures in February after all). Instead, I tried weaving on my mini Jim Hokett loom & also tried tissue paper mache. The tutorial for the tissue paper mache light shade is here. Upsides & downsides: the Hokett looms are perfect commuter craft tools. I really enjoy weaving small pieces. I haven’t returned to weaving but I enrolled in Rebecca Mezoff’s online class, Weaving Tapestry on Little Looms, in late November and working my way through it is on my to-do list for 2017. Tissue paper mache is an at-home craft but was a lot of fun and very practical – there are tons of useful home lighting shades & other accessories that can be created with tissue paper mache.

Weaving on a Hokett loom
Tissue Paper Mache Light Shade

April- Edible Crafts

I tried several new fermentations (sourdough tortillas, cashew cheese & Gjetost cheese) & blogged about them here. I had to get back to fermenting at some point in this process. It’s been the mainstay for the last few years and while I’ve fermented far more beverages than foods, it’s a similar process. Fermenting is very satisfying but in a slightly different way than crafting. I also made my first embroidered button, a sheep, for a good friend’s bday.

Fermentation Feast
Embroidered sheep brooch


May – Hand Sewing

I tried visible mending this month. My husband is a professional brewer (he’s opening his own brewery, Fifth Hammer Brewing Co, in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens sometime in 2017) and quite hard on his jeans. Being a brewer, he doesn’t need fancy work clothes (outside of his boots) so I decided to mend several pairs of his holey jeans instead of buying new ones. This was a ton of fun – jeans are a bit bulky for commuter crafting but visible mending is a great free-for-all embroidery exercise. Downside is that denim is a bit tough to stitch through – I actually had to use a rubber jar opener pad to help me pull the needle through the areas that had several layers. I’m happy with how they turned out and he’s been wearing them regularly since and they’re holding up well. Visible mending is another craft that I will definitely revisit. I have several moth-eaten sweaters to mend as well as several other projects in mind.

Visibly Mended Jeans
Visibly Mended Jeans, Before & After
Visibly Mended Jeans

June- Heavy Craft; leather, wood burning, glass etching

I spent the month collecting all colors of plastic jugs on recycling day in my Brooklyn neighborhood. I had planned to make some jewelry with them but never got around to it. Instead, I upcycled plastic water bottles into beads. I chopped the bottles up, colored them with Sharpies, wrapped them around chopsticks and hit em with a crafter’s heat gun. Pretty neat. Still haven’t figured out how I want to assemble them into a necklace or something but maybe I’ll be hit with inspiration one of these days. And I still have a giant bin of colorful plastic jugs in our storage loft waiting to be turned into jewelry.

Upcycled plastic beads

July- Yarn Craft; knitting, crochet, weaving

I ended tried thread crochet. I’m a pretty decent knitter but I find crochet a little more challenging. I made a garland (could be a necklace?) from dollar store craft twine and made the parts of a necklace from perle cotton. I didn’t finish either but probably will at some point. I still don’t love crochet as much as knitting, weaving or embroidery but thread crochet is another skill in my toolkit. And it’s a great commuting craft.

Thread crochet
Thread crochet

August- Printmaking; fabric or paper

I started going off-project here, trying multiple things and losing a firm monthly time frame. Which was great – I really hit my crafting groove this month (thank goodness for the iPhone’s Moments view – it made figuring out when I made what easy, phew). A good friend had set up a private shirt sewing class for a small group of us – two full days with Cal Patch in my friend’s Brooklyn apartment. I’ll admit that I wasn’t too hot on sewing structured shirts (I hadn’t sewn in a while and prefer simpler machine projects) but I signed up knowing that it would be a fun experience, would get me back on the machine and most importantly, reacquaint me with a group of dear crafty friends that I hadn’t seen in awhile. I had a blast! I drafted my own shirt pattern, something I had not done before, and sewed a muslin. After attaching the first sleeve late afternoon on day 1, I knew that I wanted to veer off-course and make some simple sleeveless shirts. So I tweaked my original drafted pattern and cut out my first shirt. I finished it on day 2 and started two more shirts. It was so, so good to get back to sewing that on the following weekend, I downloaded and assembled my first PDF garment pattern and whipped it up: the Twist (it) Blouse by schneidermeistern (purchased via Kollabora). This was my sewing style – one pattern piece, one piece of fabric, no sleeves to set-in, extremely fast & easy. Yes! I also stopped by the Hester Street Fair one Saturday that month and got to try shibori dyeing with indigo dye. I made three pieces and fell in love. I started my own indigo dye at home in early September and made some more samples. I haven’t gone back to it but definitely another craft that I want to get back to at some point.

Self-drafted shirt made in class with Cal Patch
Twist (it) Blouse
Shibori pieces made at Hester Street Fair
Shibori samples made at home

September – Machine Sewing

I continued with some machine sewing, turning scraps (leftover from a friend’s shirt in the August sewing class) into fabric tubes and assembling them into a necklace. Not yet finished but fun. I used a fabric tube kit called Turn-it-All that helped a ton. It’s still pretty fiddly but far more doable than without the tools. This is something that I’ve wanted to try for years and finally got around to it – woohoo! I was heavily inspired by these wonderful necklaces by Keenon/Shaw (you can see one here) that are sold at the American Folk Art Museum here in NYC. They’re made from kimono silk and are beautiful. Toubab Paris has also made a lot of wonderful tube-based necklaces over the years. I also tried a bunch of embroidery stitches – I made a few embroidered buttons in April and returned to them this month. Super addictive, free-form creative crafting. I made all of them with perle cotton, which is a thicker thread and fills the fabric quickly. I’m far more comfortable with embroidery at this point. Embroidered buttons make an excellent public transportation commuting craft.

Tube necklace from scraps
Embroidered buttons

October- Needlework; embroidery, cross-stitch, crewel, needlepoint

I continued with the embroidered buttons, switching to regular embroidery thread (a finer thread than perle cotton) and embroidering some actual designs. I ended up making custom buttons for friends that donated to a charity walk that I did that month. I tried my first embroidered pet portrait this month. And now I’m even more comfortable with embroidery and still really, really enjoying it. I went to the New York State Sheep & Wool Festival with some friends this year, one of which had just returned from a weaving class in Washington state. It was a traditional weaving class on floor looms but we were admiring the pin looms at the festival as easy ways to scratch the weaving itch until she ordered her own floor loom. Well, I googled pin looms when I got home and quickly fell down the pin loom rabbit hole. I made my first pin loom (my husband added the nails), headed to my friend’s apartment and wove a few samples. Surprise – so much fun! And a fabulous way to use variegated yarn, which I love on the skein or in the ball but don’t love nearly as much knit up. And I have a lot of variegated yarn in my stash, some of which I dyed over 10 years ago and has just been languishing. There’s a pretty great pin loom group on Facebook if you decide to get into it.

Embroidered buttons

Embroidered Ralphie button

Pin loom samples

November- Papercraft; origami, scrapbook, calligraphy

I realized that the first pin loom that we made had less pins and wider spacing than my friend’s vintage pin loom so I made another 4″ loom and a 2″ loom as well, all by myself this time. Those nails are actually easier to hammer in straight than I thought. I made all of them with inexpensive canvas frames that you can purchase at art & craft supply stores – remove the canvas and you’re ready to start hammering. I used a grid pattern that I found in the book 100 Pin Loom Squares (thanks, NYPL!) for the regular 4″ loom and adapted it slightly for the 2″ loom. You can also purchase vintage looms at garage sales, online, etc and Schacht makes the Zoom Loom, which is pretty sweet. I went the cheap route – all 3 of my looms cost around $10 to make, in total. And they work just fine. I split the wood a bit as I didn’t drill holes first but a little wood glue fixed it right up. And you can definitely weave on a pin loom on the subway – I made most of my squares there and quite a few people were really interested in what I was doing. And again, a fabulous way to use variegated yarns. I dug into my stash, coming out with several yarns that I had dyed over 10 years ago, got to weaving and made my first pin loom project, a scarflet. I love it!! Pin loom weaving is something anyone of almost any age can do – there are some helpful videos to get you started and it is really quite addictive and quite versatile. I recently bought some yarn from the annual Manhattan Smiley’s Yarns Sale (such bargains!) specifically for pin loom weaving and am really looking forward to getting back to it. I’ve seen some lovely projects combining pin loom weaving and knitting and have some designs brewing in the brain. At the very end of the month, I tried needle felting with cheap synthetic felt (acrylic? polyester?) in anticipation of my December project (photos are in the that month’s section) and also tried making paper houses, using a template from Delia Creates. Quite enjoyable and I’d like to pursue more paper buildings in the future, for sure. There are a lot more templates out there and these little houses are a perfect blank slate for all kinds of creative embellishments. So many possibilities!

My homemade pin looms
Samples from my 3 different handmade pin looms
My first pin loom project

Paper houses

December- Choose your own!

I chose a 25 Days of Handmade Ornaments project, trying to do something creative every day for the month of December. It was a bit stressful at times (particularly as I worked the majority of the month and had quite a few evening events) but I actually managed to work on a little something every day and make a bunch of ornaments. And I have continued making every day. I’m on staycation this week and have been hit with the flu, unfortunately, but have managed to knit every day this week. I’ve made a pair of mitts, finished a scarf, and knit a hat (pics coming soon). This has been a splendid learning experience – for one, I focused on making instead of buying this month. I also shared the ornaments via my personal Facebook page and on Instagram and got a really good response. I’ve enjoyed making things so much this year and I truly feel that everyone can benefit from regular creative practice, whatever it may be. Crafting isn’t for everyone but I’ve had a lot of people tell me (virtually and in real life) that they’ve enjoyed my ornament sharing and a few have even been inspired to start their own projects, whether they be in a crafty medium or something else. Creation and the act of making can be so satisfying for the soul and excellent therapy for stressful times. I am a better person in many ways after this year of making. Oh, and I also tried fancy pom poms.

Handmade ornaments 1-4Handmade ornaments 5-8Handmade ornaments 9-12Handmade ornaments 13-16Handmade ornaments 17-20Handmade ornaments 21-24Pom poms

A huge thank you to the organizers of TSNEM, everyone in the Facebook group and everyone that has encouraged me to move forward with this project! I am going to continue to craft on the regular, revisiting some of what I’ve learned this year and continuing to learn new things. I’m keeping an ongoing list of ideas and projects that I’d like to work on and my Pinterest boards keep growing, too. I wish I had more time but have learned that making good use of small amounts of time (like between subway stops) can go a long way.

I’ve signed up for a new challenge for 2017, 1 Year of Stitches, hosted by Sara Barnes of Brown Paper Bag. We’ll be making at least one embroidery stitch every day. You can learn more about the project here and sign up for the Facebook page here (it’s closed so you’ll have to send a request to get access).



  1. Stephanie said:

    This is such a fun round up Mary!! I am so, so thrilled that you joined in and stuck it out through the year, and had so much fun scrolling back through this super creative list of things 🙂

    January 2, 2017
  2. Wow! What a crafty year you’ve had! I’ve loved seeing all your different projects.

    With love, Lynda.

    January 5, 2017

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