Monday, June 30, 2014

DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer

DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer
Every spring, the weather warms up, the flowers start to bloom, and the world begins to green... and every homeowner with a lawn feels the call to conquer their plot of land and work it into beautiful submission. We rake, we mow, we trim, we plant, we water, we curse, we sweat. We look at our neighbors' lawns and feel guilty for not mowing often enough, or we envy their beautiful hedges and weedless lawns. We peruse the aisles in the garden department, looking for the next tool or gadget to add to our weekend repertoire of lawn domination.

Or maybe that's just us? I know we aren't alone in this, because we see people all over town raking, mowing, trimming, planting, watering, sweating...

... and sometimes, spraying. After hours of hard work, it's frustrating to see weeds cropping up through every sidewalk crack or taking over a bit of lawn. Watch the commercials for lawn sprays, and it's tempting to go get a bottle of weed killer and carpet bomb the lawn until the only green things left are intentionally planted fescue and bluegrass.

Now, I think there is a time and place for the responsible use of herbicide and pesticide. I just don't think trying to keep our landscaping on par with the neighbors is that time or place. We all have heard the dangers of chemicals in herbicides leaking into our ground water and soil. Just read the label on any commercial weed killer, and it will warn you not to use it around children, pets, or water sources. It instructs you to wear goggles and gloves when mixing it and cautions you to call poison control if ingested. In other words, it is pretty toxic stuff. There's no denying that it kills the weeds quickly, but one has to ask--at what cost?

We have children and pets, we live near a school, and our water runs off into the city drainage system. As much as we want a beautiful, weedless landscape around our house, it's not worth the risk to our health, our children's health, and the health of our community.

But still... those dang weeds! While part of me just wants to leave them, left unattended on sidewalk cracks, those weeds become a hazard to children on bicycles, parents pushing strollers, and people in wheelchairs, because the sidewalk is no longer a flat surface. Plus, there's nothing wrong with wanting a nice looking landscape; you just have to put in a little more time and effort to accomplish it in a safe and healthy way.

Cue the DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer! I found lots of homemade recipes online, but in the interest of keeping it simple and cheap, I decided to try the following concoction:

DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer
  • 1 Tb Dawn dishsoap (I used non-concentrated, because that's what I have on hand)
  • 1 Tb lemon juice (out of a bottle, but you could use fresh squeezed and make yourself some lemonade while you're at it!)
  • 3 cups apple cider vinegar 
I mixed the ingredients in a large spray bottle (one that can hold 24 oz).  I sprayed the weeds on a hot, dry, sunny day, thoroughly coating the leaves. Of course the wind picked up (I live in Nebraska, after all), so while I was spraying, the mixture blew onto my bare legs. It also drifted into a puddle of water in the street. It was easy to see how a toxic solution could easily get on surfaces where it would be a hazard, but I felt okay going to town with this homemade spray.

The weeds turned brown and died over the course of 2-3 days. The proof is in the pudding:
DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer Day 1
Day 1- The day of the spraying--notice I'm in flip-flops! No worries about getting this stuff on my skin.
DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer Day 2
Day 2- Starting to turn brown.
Day 3- pretty much dead! I only sprayed it on the first day; it continued work as time went on.
DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer

As I mentioned, this spray works the best on a sunny, dry day. I tried spraying weeds under a tree that never really get direct sunlight, and while it sort of worked, it only killed a few of the weeds:
DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer in the shade
Weeds in the shade under our tree. Notice the water from a recent rain; the wind blew the spray into it. Can you imagine if it were toxic?
DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer in the shade
Day 2- It's killed a few of the smaller weeds, but the big ones are only slightly scathed.
DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer in the shade
Close up of the weeds in the shade. We ended up pulling the rest by hand.
I also sprayed another section--this time using white vinegar-- and it rained shortly thereafter. It still managed to start to kill the weeds, but they required another application before total annihilation.

DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer
Before spraying and before the rain.
DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer
It rained and so I had to reapply. The wet sidewalk in this pic is actually from my garden sprinkler gone haywire, not from the spray!
And finally, I tried the spray over a large weedy area in our alleyway. Although it did turn some weeds brown, it was difficult to get the necessary coverage from a small spray bottle, and it ultimately didn't do much at all. Perhaps there is a way to use a hose sprayer to apply the vinegar solution, but I haven't tried it yet.

In short, this DIY Nontoxic Weed Killer works best with:
  • Small weeds
  • Direct sunlight
  • Dry conditions
  • Weeds in isolated areas, such as sidewalk or driveway cracks
It doesn't work as well with:
  • Large weeds or large areas of weeds
  • Shady areas
  • Rainy conditions
  • Weeds near or within plants you want to keep (such as your lawn)
So how do we get rid of those weeds the spray can't kill? Well, we mow them, trim them with a weed eater, or we do the good old fashion method of pulling them out by hand! We let the kids get in on the fun, too! We plan to put down some weed mat under our landscaping rocks to prevent the weeds from growing in the first place.

If you have another good DIY nontoxic weed killing solution, I'd love to hear about it!

~Mulligan Mama

PS- Did I mention this nontoxic weed killer is also much, much cheaper than commercial weed killers? If saving the environment isn't enough motivation, how about saving your wallet? ;-)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

DIY Fabric Wall Art

DIY Fabric Wall Art
One of the things I love about Pinterest is that I see creative projects that I would never think to look for on my own, let alone attempt. That's been especially true of fabric dyeing-- it seemed way above my pay grade in terms of do-ableness. (Do-ability? Is that even a word?)  But after I dyed our dining room curtains, I was much braver to attempt some other fabric projects, including tie-dying T-shirts with my daughter, dyeing fabric for baby wraps, and making bleach spray T-shirts.

I've been intrigued by the Batik style of dying, but the whole hot wax thing seemed like a 3rd degree burn waiting to happen. I mean, I can't even be trusted around hot glue guns. Thanks to Pinterest, I found it's possible to do a Batik-style of dyeing fabric using blue school glue and regular fabric paint. This blog post by on The Matchbook on Flour Paste Batik was my inspiration:

As you will see, I followed her technique of swirling and even her color scheme. I didn't trust myself to venture out into my own creative territory until I figured out what the heck I was doing. However, I didn't use flour; I used Elmer's Blue School Glue, a trick I first discovered on Holly Hox. (And by the way, I made a T-shirt for my daughter using that technique, and she loves it!)

How to Make Fabric Wall Art
1. Buy cheap white muslin fabric, or reuse old white sheets around the house. Wash first.

2. Dye the muslin briefly in a dye bath (optional).
I used Dylon Permanent Fabric Dye 1.75 Ounce-China Blue

Dye fabric in Dylon China Blue
The muslin is the small piece of fabric on the right. I used Dylon China Blue dye.
This step wasn't essential, but since I was already dyeing some cotton gauze to make a baby wrap, I figured I would dip the muslin in for a little color.  I didn't leave it in the dye solution very long so I would have a very light blue base. I rinsed it, washed it, and dried it according to package directions. If you don't want to do this step, you can just start with plain white muslin fabric.

3. Once dry, tack the fabric onto a big piece of cardboard.
Tack fabric to cardboard
I've already started adding glue swirls in this pic (see next step), but I attached it to the cardboard first.
Thankfully I saved the box from our baby crib, and it worked perfectly as a backing for this project. I used push pins on the corners and the middle of each side.

4. Swirl Elmer's Blue School Glue in a pattern; let dry.
(You can find it in most big box stores, or here: Elmer's Washable No-Run School Glue Gel, 7.625 oz Bottle, Blue (E363))

Elmer's Blue School Glue Batik

I followed the swirly pattern as demonstrated on the flour paste batik blog post because it seemed like a foolproof design.  It was! I let the glue dry overnight.

5. Put a little fabric paint in a small spray bottle, water it down, and spray over fabric.
I don't have an exact ratio of water to paint- I just added enough water and swirled it in the bottle until I knew it would easily spray through the nozzle. One of the paints I used is Tulip Soft Fabric Paint 4oz Matte Royal Blue
Tulip Fabric Paint watered down for spray bottle
I used Tulip fabric paint in 3 different shades of blue. Two were matte paints, but one had a bit of a sparkle to it.
Spraying watered down fabric paint for batik
I squirted a small amount of paint into the spray bottle, added a little bit of water, swirled it together, and sprayed closely to the fabric (I'm holding it up higher just for pictorial purposes--don't hold it up that high unless you want a fine mist of paint all over your floor!)
6. Let fabric dry. Add more glue designs if desired.
I didn't let the fabric dry before applying a second layer of glue, and it shows--the glue lines oozed out onto the fabric and didn't leave the crisp lines behind. Oh well, I can pretend that I meant it to look that way!

7. Sponge paint another color of fabric paint.
Sponging watered down fabric paint for batik
I watered down a darker blue paint.
Sponging watered down fabric paint for batik
I kept the paint dark on the left and lightened as I went across, just to experiment.
I didn't water this paint down as much so that it would be a richer, darker color. I also sprayed more paint so that I would have more of the medium shade of blue. I varied the amount of paint I put on different parts of the fabric, so that I could experiment with different end results. Feel free to go crazy with the colors!

8. Let dry. 
I let it dry for 2 or 3 days, as per the fabric paint directions.

9. Rinse in cold water to remove excess paint. Wash and dry per fabric paint directions.
The excess blue paint rinsed right out in the sink, and the glue washed out in the washing machine, leaving behind Batik-style swirls and patterns.

10. Measure fabric for frames.
I initially was going to mount the fabric over canvas, but canvas frames can be expensive. I found three record album frames on clearance at Joann's that worked perfectly for what I wanted to do. I placed the frames on the fabric so that the parts of the pattern I wanted to showcase would be centered--I wanted the darker gradation of paint to be on the outer edges of the outer two pictures with the lighter painted pattern in the middle.
Lining up fabric art on frames
As you can see, washing the fabric removed the glue and the excess dye, leaving behind a neat design.
11. Cut fabric and attach to frames.
The frames came with clips that held the fabric on the edges, and I used hot glue to secure the excess fabric.

12. Measure for placement on the wall.
I tried the trick of using paper in the size of the frames to mark the spots for the nails ahead of time. There was cardboard inside the frames that worked perfectly to measure out wall placement... and yet I still managed to not get them completely straight. C'est la vie.
Measuring wall for pictures
Yeah, that left square is a bit wonky. It remained so even after fixing it.
13. Hang your fabric wall art and enjoy!
DIY Fabric Wall Art
Yep, still wonky on the left. Don't look too closely. 
DIY Fabric Wall Art

DIY Fabric Wall Art Batik style

All told, I probably spend about $20 for all the materials for this project, including fabric, dye, fabric paint, Elmer's blue glue, and the frames. I was able to use the dye for another project and only used a small amount of fabric paint, leaving a lot on hand for a future project.

The great thing is that I can reuse the frames in the future if I decide I'm tired of this wall art.  The fabric comes right off the clips in the back, and the hot glue will pop off with a little coaxing.

And as always, remember to wear gloves when working with dye.  Unless you like blue fingers.
~Mulligan Mama