A Tree Change is A-Comin’

Have you seen the ‘make-under’ dolls that have become so popular of late?  This is where a preloved doll, like a Bratz doll, is given a ‘make-under’ and completely transformed in to a dolly with a more natural appearance.  The enormous eyes and lips are gone, the crazy hair and skimpy clothing replaced by something more down to earth.  More appropriate.  More accessible.  And more fun!

A group of Tree Change Doll kids ready to play outside. Picture courtesy of Tree Change Dolls on Facebook

The first I’d heard of a make-under doll was in February this year via this YouTube video.  Sonia Singh is a Tasmanian mum and artist who has been making under dolls she’s found at local tip shops for her own daughter.  Her process involves completely removing all traces of the heavy, stylized, makeup and hand painting a new face on each doll.  Sonia and her mum, Sylvia, then hand sew and hand knit new, more modest and age appropriate play outfits for each doll, and even make new shoes to replace the stripper heels the original Bratz dolls sport.  The end result is a completely refurbished, hand-styled doll that children say feels more like a friend, someone they might actually know in real life, dolls that are more friendly and fun to play with.

I can see what they mean.  The before and after pictures reveal a marked difference between the impossibly proportioned Barbies and trashy Bratz dolls, and the more natural Tree Change Dolls that Sonia creates.  Here is a recent example of Sonia’s work.

Picture from Tree Change Dolls facebook page.

Bindi – July’s charity doll. Picture from TreeChangeDolls.com

Sonia Singh and one of her Tree Change Dolls. Image from Tree Change Dolls on Facebook

I love this idea on so many levels.  First, there is the whole recycling piece.  Turning someone else’s trash in to treasure and preventing the unwanted dolls from becoming landfill.  Love that!

And then there is Sonia’s philosophy of taking dolls with hyper-sexualised features (ugh, truly truly awful) and transforming them in to what looks pretty close to being a kid you might actually know, all while providing an alternative, slightly feminist, certainly positive message to young girls.

And you know what else I love?  Sonia makes of point of not editing perceived ‘flaws’ that children might naturally have, like freckles, bushy eyebrows and buck teeth but adds them in to create personality.  Love that, too.

People just can’t get enough of these dolls.  Back in February Sonia’s original story was quickly picked up by social media and all of a sudden she become quite the viral sensation.  Her dolls, which she sells through her Etsy shop, are just about impossible to come by as they all sell out in a matter of minutes after every listing.  Clearly, Sonia has struck upon an underserved niche in the toy market and, no doubt, could make fists full of money by licensing with Mattel.  But instead of holding on greedily to her great idea Sonia has created a number of How-To videos to encourage regular peeps like you and me to have a go at upcycling old unwanted dollies ourselves.  How amazing is that?

So, of course, I had to give it a try 🙂

Here is the strumpet, Jazzmyn, I picked up at a local op-shop.  She was $2.50.  Not as whorey as I was hoping to find, quite honestly, but still.

image   image

And after a bit of tinkering, here she is now.


I think she turned out pretty well for a first try.  My kids love her.  And it was a lot of fun to make her some new clothes, boots and some chicken friends 🙂  She reminds me a lot of a little girl I volunteered with in my youngest’s kindergarten class, Daniza.  Now, who would you want your 6 year old to play with: Jazzmyn with her sassy mouth and stripper heels, or Daniza and her cute chickens?

Another thing I like about Sonia is that each month she puts one of her dolls up for auction on Ebay with some of the proceeds benefiting a different charity.  Bindi, the dolly at the top of this story, was auctioned off this month for just over AUD1000 with proceeds to go to The Indigenous Literacy Foundation.  Ah.May.Zing.

I love everything about this.  The social responsibility piece.  The recycling.  The positive body image message for young girls.  The entrepreneurial spirit of a mum from Tassie!  Love.  Love.  Love.  Don’t you?


How To Build a Portable, Collapsible Chicken Tractor

We have two chickens, Charlotte and Sophia, who live in a sweet coop.


Our sweet coop

Cluckingham Palace

Cluckingham Palace

The footprint of the coop is 8’x4′ which gives them a run space of 32 sq ft which is enough for two chickens to share, but even this cold heart thinks the girls would appreciate a day out and a change of scenery on occasion.  Trouble is that we do not have a fenced yard so I really needed to make a day-tractor of sorts for them, something light weight and adjustable to suit our needs.  Ideally, it would be something that could be stored easily when not in use, something I could put over my vege garden to have the girls work that from time to time yet spacious enough to be worth the effort.  I’ve also been asked, recently, to bring the girls to some local preschools and elementary schools as part of their Farm Animal Week as an educational display, to talk about how we take care of the chickens and show the city kids a real live chicken and I was thinking it would be handy to have a something that could hold them for looking at but would lay flat to fit in my minivan to transport.  Hmmm, seemed quite a lot of requirements and a tall order to fill. I searched online until I came across this little beauty:

Collapsible chicken run - inspiration.  Source:Craftlog http://craftlog.org/craftlog/?p=4175

Collapsible chicken run – inspiration. Source:Craftlog

Eureka!  This will be perfect.  It is adjustable to fit over my skinny (just 2′ wide) vege garden, yet can expand to … whatever width the A-frame will allow, say 5′, AND fold up for easy, flat storage when not in use.  And it looked easy enough to build.  Of course, there will be less-than-zero predator protection with this, probably as close to free-ranging (and subsequent security issues) without actually free-ranging as I can get, so it must only be used under supervision.  I thought I’d give it a go.  Here’s what I did.

How to Build a Portable, Collapsible Chicken Run What you need:

  • (7) 1″x3″x8′ pine furring strips (for extra light weight)
  • 16′ length of 48″ hardware cloth, chicken wire, plastic utility fencing for the outside of the big panels
  • 8′ length of 48″ plastic utility fencing for the end caps (needs to be flexible so it will fold up)
  • 3 hinges for the top
  • screws to screw it all together
  • L-brackets to reinforce the sides if needed (I needed these as the wood is so flimsy)
  • U-pins or staples to staple the hardware cloth to the wood
  • paint to better weatherproof it and make it look pretty
  • 10’+ length of utility fencing
  • taples to affix the utility fencing
  • an afternoon


Hint #1: Make sure you look for very straight pieces of the furring strips when buying your lumber.  They are hard to find and you might need to ask the guys to cut a new bundle or two open so you can find straight pieces.  Don’t be shy – do it and find the straightest pieces you can.

Step 1.
Cut 3 of the furring strips in half to give you (6) 4′ lengths.  I had the guys at Lowes do this for me.

Step 2.
Join the long 8′ lengths of wood to the shorter 4′ lengths of wood to make 2 big 8’x4′ rectangles with supports in the middle at the 4′ mark.  I used the Kreg Jig to make it easy to join the wood. You do have to fill the holes with wood filler and paint but I’m ok with that as I find these joins easier that trying to toe in the screw by myself.

I used the Kreg Jig to make it easy to join the wood.  You do have to fill the holes with wood filler and paint but I'm ok with that as I find these joins easier that trying to toe in the screw.

Making the joins with the Kreg Jig

Step 3.
Paint all the wood with exterior grade paint.  The panels will look like this when done. (Check out my easy Paint with a Sock painting technique to save yourself some grief during this part)

One of the two painted panels.

One of the two painted panels.

Hint #2: Check out the ‘Oops Section’ for cheap paint options while at Lowes.  The only exterior paint I had lying around the house was the cream colour I’d used on the coop and I wanted this to blend in better with the environment.  Lowes happened to have a small tin of exterior green paint for just $2.50 instead of the $18.00 it would have ordinarily cost.  Score!

Step 4.
Reinforce the corners with brackets if necessary.

Step 5.
Staple or use the U-pins to attached the hardware cloth/utility wire to the rectangular panels.

Step 6.
Join the two big rectangles at the top with the hinges.  Best to attach the hinges on the inside of the panels so the hinges will close properly and lie flat.


Attaching hinges

Hinges and reinforcing brackets attached.

Hinges and reinforcing brackets attached.

Right now your project will look like this:


You can fold it up.

You can lay it out flat.

You can lay it out flat.

You can stand it up to make a chicken tractor out of it. I like that the width is variable depending on my need.

You can stand it up to make a chicken tractor out of it. I like that the width is variable depending on my need.

Step 7.
Staple the utility fencing to one edge of the run.  The width of the fencing will need to be adjustable depending on how wide you make the footprint of the run so make sure you cut it with extra length.  It also makes an easy ‘access door’.

Here is the 'access door', with Sophia timidly entering the run for the first time.

Here is the ‘access door’, with Sophia timidly entering the run for the first time.

Right now I have used twist wire threaded through the hardware cloth to ‘close’ the ends of the ‘doors’ but I’m looking for a better solution.  Maybe some cuphooks screwed in the the wood on the side around which the utility fencing could be stretched?  For right now, wire it is.  I do make sure I pull the bottom quite taught so that the chickens can’t wriggle underneath.  So far, so good.

Completed run with utility fencing affixed

Completed run with utility fencing affixed.  Also positioned with a narrow footprint, perfect for setting over my narrow vege garden rows.

Adjusted to have a wider footprint.

Adjusted to have a wider footprint.

You’re Finished!
Voila!  An awesome, portable, collapsible, adjustable chicken day run that seems to be working nicely for my girls.

Charlotte and Sophia enjoying a day out in the garden in their new day pen.

Charlotte and Sophia enjoying a day out in the garden in their new day pen.

One thing to remember is that since I have used flexible utility fencing it is not predator-proof and the girls needs to be supervised(ish) whilst they are in it.  We don’t have fences so my main concern would be for the random neighbourhood dog who might wander in to my yard and get excited to see the chickens.  I would definitely not feel good leaving the house with them in the day tractor.

The whole project was easy to build and cost about $70 total, so super affordable.  I love that it can be folded flat for easy storage (probably affixed to the garage wall somehow with hooks to get it up off the ground) and that it is really really light so I can easily move it around by myself.  It will also fit in the back of my minivan should I want to take the girls to an elementary school for show-and-tell.  Very happy with this project.  Yay!

Regular chicken coop in the foreground with the new day pen blending in to the mid-ground.  Very pastoral over at my house.

Regular chicken coop in the foreground with the new day pen blending in to the mid-ground. Very pastoral over at my house.

Anyone else looking for a day-tractor for their chickens?  Let me know if you like this idea and try it yourself.  Would love to see how other’s modify these plans to their own needs.

An Artist Must Suffer for their Art. That’s Why it’s Called ‘Pain’-ting (ugh)

How to take the Pain out of Painting

So, I am working on a post about building a little sumpin’-sumpin’ for the garden/girls that isn’t quite finished (stay tuned for that).  But as I was going about my building business I was up to my least favourite part of any build, the painting portion, and I thought to pass on a few tips I’ve found helpful.

Tip #1: Use an old running sock (one that has lost its mate) to do the painting.
I swear, this is such a great tip.  Put an old rubber glove on, then put the inside-out sock on over the top.  Use the sock as your brush to dip and swipe along the wood.  It makes it soooo easy to get in the all the fiddly corners and it makes it go so fast!  I love love love this idea.  Of course, don’t do this if the final finish is super important but for an application like mine (a garden objet d’art) it was perfect.  I swear, I don’t think I’ll ever use a paintbrush again if I can help it.

Using an old mate-less sock for the painting.  I swear, I will never paint using a paint brush again - so easy and fast!

Using an old mate-less sock for the painting.

Tip #2: Upcycle a milk jug to use as a paint holder.
Guys, I’m telling you, this tip made all the difference to whether this was going to be a super-drag-chore or just a regular-type chore.  Since my rather large project was in two locations, being able to pick up my paint holder by the handle and move around the wooden frame while holding the paint (not having to go back and forth to a stationary can) and then just moving organically to the next frame made things go much more quickly and smoothly.  Brilliant!

All I did was take an old milk jug and draw a line with a sharpie to cut off the spout and make a neck wide enough to get my hand in and out while maintaining the handle.  Then I used a stanley knife to cut it out.  Easy!


So, dear readers, go forth and create!  My hopes are that with these tips there will be less ‘pain’ in your painting (ba-dum bum).

You’re welcome 🙂