The Great Fall Sun Catcher Project

Brenda makes an epoxy sun catcher with fall leaves

A lot of you watched this all go down on Instagram stories. It was quite the saga. I originally set out to make a fall-leaf sun catcher as a craft for alphamom  but it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t a project for kids or the crafter-lite™. No this was a serious commitment for seriously demented crafters like me. But you know what? It was a total blast! I will definitely do this again and again. And I’m going to share it all here for other serious deep-dive crafters like me.

What’s the secret to this wondrous project? Epoxy. Epoxy is magic! You can make so many things with it! Payam has been a fan for a long time but I’ve always been a bit afraid of it. #1 It smells toxic (However I did find a brand that isn’t so bad. See below). #2 It’s sticky. #3 It has a limited time window that you can work within. If you don’t get it right within that time frame you are out of luck. SOL! No pressure or anything!

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So here is what you need:

  • epoxy (I bought this brand – no respirator needed!)
  • a silicone pan* (I went with a circle because I was singing Harvest Moon the whole time.)
  • a silicone mat*
  • fall leaves
  • waxed string
  • popsicle sticks
  • latex gloves
  • translucent beads in fall colors
  • gold dust glitter

I thought I’d have trouble finding fall leaves in Southern California since we are “seasonally challenged” but I was amazed at all the pretty red eucalyptus leaves I found. They aren’t the bright reds and yellows that you find back east but I like to think they are just more subtle with their beauty.

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So pretty right? I’m going to have to keep doing more crafts with these gifts from nature. They are beautiful and they are FREE!

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Next I tied them to a bunch of strings. I had Bug act as a hand model because I am embarrassed of my motley grandma hands.

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After a few hours of stressing out about the mystical magical epoxy and reading all the small print I finally got up the guts to mix up my epoxy potion. It turns out it isn’t that stressful after all. You just empty one bottle and then the next one into your container. No measuring required. The trick is to mix thoroughly for a full three minutes. I may have only mixed my mixture for two point something minutes because the edges of my circle disc didn’t cure 100% and Payam had to come to my rescue with another coat from his shop stash of epoxy. But we’ll get into that later. Anyway, mix, mix, mix! Make sure you get that popsicle stick all over the place, especially the edges.

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Now the fun part: dipping! This was so exciting. The leaf goes into the epoxy mixture dull and comes out looking like a wet shiny jewel. It is truly amazing. I could do this step all day! It’s a bit messy though. It’s important to wear gloves because you get epoxy all over your hands and it doesn’t wash off that easily. In fact, you have better luck just wiping your fingers off with a paper towel and letting the rest wear off naturally. I know. Probably toxic and all that.

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After I dipped them I let the excess epoxy drip off onto a silicone mat. I added glitter at this point. Glitter was definitely not necessary, the leaves glittered just fine by themselves but who’s gonna stop the glitter-fairy? Not me!

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After all the leaves were dipped and set out to dry, I put some remaining leaves into the pan I was dipping in because that would be the round disc base for my sun catcher. I added glitter to that too, of course.

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After an hour or so of dripping onto the mat, the leaves started to get tacky so I lifted them gently off the mat and hung them on my hand dandy Daiso laundry hanger from their strings. A regular clothing line would work too. Just make sure you have some cardboard or paper below to catch any extra drips. You don’t really want to have to scrape epoxy off your floor. But if you do get some drips on your floor or table (like we did) just use a paint scraper and it will come off most surfaces.

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Now the waiting part. Curing took about two days. It was painful. I kept touching it and then instantly regretting touching it because it was still sticky and now I had sticky residue on my hand again that doesn’t wash off easily. But the end result is so worth the wait. I kept looking at how cool and wet it looked and found myself day-dreaming about all the other things I could possibly make. Dreamy!

This is also about when Payam put another layer of epoxy on for me because I had some sticky patches that just wouldn’t dry. Payam has industrial-strength (smelly) epoxy that sets up in way less time. I think it only takes a day to completely cure. I don’t really know the exact particulars on what he used but it was a lot more fussy with measuring 5 parts epoxy to 1 part hardener etc etc… You can ask him.  At the end of the day I had a nice hard disc that was nearly perfect. He sanded off the rough edges for me and then drilled holes where I asked him to.

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You can see that the disc was still a tiny bit flexible. I was actually thankful it was because I was worried it might shatter when it was drilled but Payam, who knows all things epoxy, assured me that it was easy to drill and wouldn’t crack or break at all. I’m still a newbie at this and was skeptical.

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But it worked and now it was time to assemble! Waxy string holder for the top. Waxy string leaf danglers for the bottoms with beads added for extra prettiness…. all good!

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I took it out to a tree to take photos and I thought about leaving it as an outdoor decoration but I was worried that the waxed string wouldn’t hold up to the weather long term so I moved it inside to my kitchen window. Yes, my windows are dirty. Payam is such a wonderful loving person that he actually went out and cleaned them for me but they still look dirty because we have hard water and the lyme residue would take hours to remove. I’m just not a perfectionist about stuff like that.

I prefer to dwell on other things, like my pretty sun catcher!

If you make one too drop me a line! I’d love to see what other people come up with. I’m thinking I might have to make a few for Christmas gifts…

*notates that you probably won’t want to use this for anything else besides non-food related crafts so invest accordingly.

Galaxy Hot Chocolate in Galaxy Mugs!

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I’m about to blog Bug’s amazing, 11th-birthday, galaxy-themed party but I have a few galaxy things I want to share first individually and I’m thinking a bunch of posts is better than one crazy long one. Or maybe not. Who knows.

First up is Galaxy Hot Chocolate in galaxy-painted mugs. Amazing right? I was inspired by this super-over-loaded sugar-blitzed-unicorn hot chocolate. (Thank you Plumeriacat for the heads up on that one!) We tried to visit the store that makes these. They are local but the line was out the door and around the corner so we made do with our imagination.

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Basically, we made hot chocolate in a crock pot using this recipe.  This was a great idea because it could sit on the counter slowly-warming for two hours without me having to worry about it.  We tried to add purple food coloring to the mix to make it more majestic but the coloring didn’t stick. The brown of the cocoa was too powerful. I think I could have made it with white chocolate but I’m not a fan of white chocolate. (blech!) In the end, the hot chocolate was a light purple-brown color but that didn’t really matter because Bug’s birthday party was outside at night and you couldn’t really see the hot chocolate under layers and layers of whipped cream anyway. We topped the towering whipped cream with these sprinkles which are so so so so cool, by the way. Totally worth splurging on. I wish I had made some homemade star marshmallows and bought a whipped cream dispenser and maybe colored the whipped cream lavender but I had to cut my losses by that point. You can’t do everything all the time I’ve learned.

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What I heard at the party was that the hot chocolate was DELICIOUS! “Like a candy bar melted in a cup!” said Annalie.  I wish I would have doubled the recipe though because we ran out! Every kid got one cup but they would have gone back for more if there had been any. I also poured it into a thermos dispenser so that the kids could serve themselves without slopping sticky hot chocolate all over the place with a ladle. This worked well until the pump got sticky and refused to pump anymore. Now that I understand how the pump works I could easily clean the seal and get it working again but out in the dark, during the party I had no such wisdom. So we popped the top off the thermos and poured it the old fashioned way for the last two kids waiting.

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Now you are probably wondering how we made the galaxy mugs. It’s not a perfect craft but it was pretty fun.

First, we bought a bunch of cheap, dark gray mugs from Ikea. I would have preferred black but no such cups existed in my price range. Gray was fine. Then I bought special made-for-glass enamel paint. There are a lot of porcelain paints that you can buy online but unfortunately I had a deadline and couldn’t wait for the premium brands to get to me in the mail. I had to sort it out at Michaels, my worst favorite place in the world, but I was lucky and found the one friendly employee who let me in on some folk art secrets. If there is a wine glass symbol on the lid you can paint this on glass! Who knew! Probably everyone. But this really helped me. The cool thing about this particular paint is that you can bake it on and it holds up to regular hand-washing. I wouldn’t trust a dishwasher (though they say you can) but it can take quite a few washings. I tested.

So where was I? Right, paint. After you are sure you have food-safe, non-toxic, made-for-glass-and-ceramic paint, you begin the process. First clean any fingerprints or sticker residue off the mug with rubbing alcohol. Then smudge on some black paint with a foamy sponge. I even used my fingers and it seemed to work well too. Then dab on some lighter colors like purple or teal, but use the colors sparingly. Smudge and smear and squint your eyes so that if everything is blurry your smudges sort of remind you of a nebula. This part is tricky and you will convince yourself that it all looks like crap but don’t worry! This is part of the process and when you add the white splatter stars it will all come together! Just trust me.

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Smudge, smudge, smudge and then! Load up a toothbrush (one that you don’t care about obviously) with white enamel paint and gently flick on some stars. I don’t have a magic method to this. You want small atmospheric white dots and not big oblong splatters so you’ll have to experiment with how you flick the toothbrush and distance you flick paint from the mug a bit until you get it just right. If you don’t get it just right, don’t worry. Just tell everyone the splatters with tails are comets. Like I said it’s not a perfect craft. But it’s fun!

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It’s spacey, right? No? Squint more.

After we smudged our way through eleven galaxies, we painted each guest’s name on the other side of the mug so we could use the mugs as party favors and table name place markers at the same time. Then we popped the mugs (all together on a cookies sheet) into a cold oven and heated it up to 350. We baked them for 30 minutes and then turned the oven off and let them cool. I actually just left the mugs in the oven overnight because I wasn’t going to bake anything that night anyway and took them out the next morning.  It’s important not to check on the mugs when they are cooling or take them out of the oven because if the ceramic cools down too fast the cups can crack. Better to be safe than sorry.

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Then on the day of the party we set each person’s mug at their place at the table. Everyone loved taking home a mug. Of course, I had to mad-dash hand wash everyone’s sticky mug while they were playing games in the other room but I didn’t mind because by that point I needed some peace and quite in the kitchen for a few minutes anyway. I’m one of those weirdos who finds doing chores soothing and kids screaming about Pusheen not so much.

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All in all, it was really fun and I’d definitely recommend this hot chocolate and making a galaxy mug to anyone planning a galaxy party. I’m not sure everyone needs more mugs in their house (we don’t!) but that’s their problem, right? Heh.

Next up: Galaxy Pancakes!