December 28, 2010

pause and rewind

Looking back on 2010, I can see that it has been a watershed year for me craftwise.  I have been busier than ever, but also happier and more balanced due to our family prioritizing of creativity.  I have learned a lot of new techniques, taken some personal and creative risks, and spent some unforgettable moments with my kids.  I have also completely overrun the dining room, but that's another story.  I thought that, with the year coming to a close, it might be a good time to share some of my favorite projects of 2010.

The Perfect Changing Pad

This is something that, I guess, is not technically a project of 2010 since I have been making them for many years for friends, but this is the first sewn item that I mass produced and thus represents creative confidence to me.  With my mother's prodding, I approached the gracious owner of an adorable children's boutique in my area with the changing pads, and her enthusiasm spurred me on to really make a go of selling my work.  She and I have recently collaborated on a new changing pad with a modified design that will make it super friendly to cloth-diapering moms and will be sold exclusively through her shop.  Very exciting!

The Market Tote

This was a favorite simply because it is so fun and functional (as my pal Lily would say).  It was another item that I originally made for myself (a somewhat piggish theme is emerging here).  The way that the fabric works with the design led me to explore the world of fabric designers and discover such talented folks as Valori Wells, Heather Ross, and Etsuko Furuya.  I was especially proud of the design and the fact that it provided an actual solution for people wanting an attractive alternative to reusable shopping bags.

My Kids' Halloween Costumes

A topic I have covered ad nauseum, I know, but it was so much fun creating these costumes with my kids.  I have heard other parents discuss the obsession that some children develop over their Halloween costumes, and experiencing that with my 3-year-old was, in a word, hilarious.  One of the funniest moments working on his crab costume was when he rejected my first attempt at eye stalks because they were "not stalky enough."  Ah . . . . a creative director in the making.  Even though a little girl dressed as Taylor Swift beat us in the local costume contest, we knew in our hearts we were winners.

I have some crafting resolutions for 2011, like designing more of my own fabric and trying to do a few more craft shows.  I would love to find or start a craft alliance in my area.  But for the most part, I feel like I am on the right track.  Now, if I could just get to the gym.

November 27, 2010

complicated crafts with kids? yes, you can!

When I switched from a crib to a big-girl bed, I was pretty nervous (and probably pretty old, judging by how clearly I remember it).  I remember loving the safety of my crib walls and not wanting to move to the expanse of a twin bed.  To help ease my mind, my father decided that I would help him build my new bed.  He let me set the screws, use the hammer, even help to stain the wood.  Probably this required prodigious reserves of patience on his part, but he never let me know it.  We truly did it together.

Now, as a frequent and zealous crafter and constant and zealous mother of two, I often find myself with one or both of my children in my lap while I work.  I will be the first to admit that allowing my boys such access to a hot, heavy iron, sharp needles and pins, gigantic scissors, and other hazards is maybe not the best plan, but they know that my dining/workroom is off limits if I am not in there, and it works for us. 

An interesting side effect of my sons' proximity to various instruments of doom is that they have both developed a very interesting and ambitious handmade aesthetic.  Even my youngest will literally hand me a piece of fabric and say, hopefully, "Ball?"  I love the idea that my constant crafting has given them the idea that anything they can think up could be made, by us together.
Taking the time to conceive and create a difficult craft project with your child is worth it--you will love the sense of excitement and accomplishment that both of you get from the process.  As an added benefit, the resulting toy's shelf life will most likely be greater since your child was an active participant in the entire process.

A good example of such a project is the portable car playmat that my son wanted to make.  He loves his matchbox cars, and he wanted a little town that he could take with him.  We didn't find anything we loved, so we decided to do it ourselves.  Using photoshop, we designed the town, making sure that it was the correct size to print cleanly to a yard.  My son dictated what I should draw and where I should draw it, and helped by using the paint bucket to color the images.  We printed the fabric through Spoonflower and waited with excitement for it to arrive.  We also picked out some of Riley Blake's fantastic Wheels fabric (hideously, it is discontinued, but I managed to find some at The Quilted Castle) to back the mat.  We also used some plain green cotton duck.  When it came time to sew, he helped me to measure and make sure that the pockets were large enough for his favorite cars, and even "helped" me sew by sitting on my lap, snipping threads, and removing pins.  This is now his favorite gift to give to friends, and I love that he is giving something that he has helped to make by hand, from the ground up.

A few tips for tackling complicated projects with small children:

1. Don't be afraid to take the driver's seat.  Make it clear from the beginning that this is not a do-it-yourself project.  There are plenty of those, but this is not it.

2. Identify specific jobs that your child can do and communicate that clearly to him or her.  My children know that they are allowed to measure with abandon and give tons of design input.  I also give them scrap fabric as we work and they are allowed to do whatever they want with it.

3. Let go.  When  you let your child make key decisions about a project, it allows him or her to feel ownership, but it might not be the choice you would have made.  That's okay.  There are lots of projects for just you, but this is not it.

Good luck and enjoy!  Your child will be reaping the benefits long after the project is complete.

October 17, 2010

loose ends

Since you endured my kvetching throughout the month of September, I thought you might like to hear how a couple of things have panned out.  On the Crafty Bastards front, it went swimmingly!  Our booth was a mad house, due in large part to the lovely ladies of Coralilie with whom I shared my booth.  Our tent looked like it had been sacked by the Huns by about 1 pm.  It was a very affirming First Craft Show experience.  I followed all of the advice I could dig up regarding clearly marked items, varying display heights, a neat and tidy presentation, and I really felt good about how things looked.  One of the things that I read pre-show said that seeing your customers respond to your work first-hand is one of the most valuable outcomes of a big show, and I have to agree.  It was fascinating to hear people talking with their friends as they handled the merchandise.  Particularly intriguing to me was the response that men seemed to have to my offerings; one dad even asked me to make him an adult-sized t-shirt with a rocket ship on it since he did not think he could wedge into the 2T I had for sale.  That left me wondering whether men have been left out in the cold a bit on the handmade front.  Maybe not every man interested in handmade wants to be ironic or punkrock.  Food for thought, anyway.

Regarding the lion costume for Cal's preschool, I was finally able to check that off my list.  It was waaaaaaaay harder than I thought it would be!  Observe the original lion costume.  Cute, but doesn't it look simple?  Well, I knew right off the bat that I would not be using the curly faux fur that was on the original mane and tail nub.  I wanted to figure out a way to do the whole thing in polarfleece, keeping it simple enough to toss into the wash frequently since it is destined to live its life in a nursery school dress-up corner.  I started by tracing the parts as best I could and cutting out new pieces.

I then began sewing.  My machine would not sew anything correctly.  It was jamming, knotting, dropping stitches.  A montage of my entire sewing machine's life was flashing before my eyes.  Even my husband was worried, and not just about the nervous breakdown I was having.  Finally, I switched to a stretch needle.  Magical!  It fixed everything. 

My next hurdle was the mane.  I wanted to keep it simple and stylized, but I also wanted it to be immediately recognizable to the children.  My original plan was to create several rows of loops and attach these to the hood.  But when I went to attach the first loop, it seemed like there just wasn't that much room with the ears already in place.  If I had proceeded to attach several rows, it would have not only looked crowded, it would have also been very heavy and caused the hood to fall over the child's face.  Instead of following my original plan, I went with a fringe framing the face.  I used a simple loop for the tail.

The final product is cute and serves the purpose.  It won't be used to outfit Simba for The Lion King on Broadway, but my son insisted on wearing it to school, so I think it will do just fine.

September 30, 2010

i'm so excited and i just can't hide it

A short, short post this week because I am madly sewing for Crafty Bastards, the craft fair that I have been obsessing over for months.  In an exciting turn of events, the good folks at the Washington City Paper got a real live cartoonist to illustrate the how-to for the wreath of recyclables that I blogged about a while ago.  They did a great job and, to be perfectly honest, I actually shivered with excitement when I saw it on the screen.  The weather is supposed to be great this weekend, so if you happen to be in the DC area, why not pop on by?  I will be the spazzy vendor scaring customers with her out-of-control zeal.

September 22, 2010

and we're back to costumes

So, today I got an email from my son's nursery school teacher, a desperate plea for a sewing parent to help out by whipping up some new costumes for the imaginative play corner.  Even though I am sewing around the clock for Crafty Bastards and have not even started the jellyfish and crab (yes, that's right, Little Brother has now migrated from sea tortoise to crab--sketch to follow), I of course committed to sewing new costumes for the preschool.  Turns out the problem is that a particular four-year-old so favors the lion costume that she has worn it down to a nub.  Also, she makes it look so exciting to be wearing it that, though intended to provide joy, the lion costume is now causing dissent amongst the Fours.

I took a look at the favored costume and it was quite simple, just a little polar fleece tunic with a tail and a matching cap with ears and what I assume used to be the mane.  The teacher expressed a need for some other costumes of a similar type, so I thought, maybe a monkey?  In my brainstorming mode, I turned to Etsy to see what sorts of costumes those folks were coming up with.  I found quite a few that would be great for Halloween or anytime:

Two Little Bluebirds offers loads of fodder for imaginative play, including a Pink Pirate Set and this Superhero Set.  You do see a lot of superhero capes on the market, but I love that she has included a belt and the cuffs and even that little badge at the throat.  That kind of detail is really the strength of this shop--the pirate set even includes a little roll-up map and a bag of "booty" (not the R. Kelly type).  Fantastic.

Tangle Wit Designs really knows its way around some polar fleece, and these hats do double duty as dress up outfits and real cold-weather accessories, complete with ear flaps.  The Cardinal Hat is especially great for those little ornithologists in your life.  Actually, I might buy this myself.  It would be a great way to pick out your kid on the slopes! 

Her Flying Horses has a wonderful selection of very reasonably priced costumes ideal for pretend play.  My son would adore this Dragon Cloak (which is just a great idea) because it would be so easy to throw on and get right to the fun part of chasing his brother and roaring at the top of his lungs.

Imaginative play is such an important part of childhood.  According to all sorts of sciencey people, it is essential to developing well-adjusted, bright, happy humans.  And while it is sometimes frustrating for me when I address my son and he replies with, "I am a robot I am a robot" in his automaton voice, I know that this is crucial for him on almost every level.  And imaginative play also gives them something to do while I am sewing.  Which I need to go do now.

September 15, 2010

two and a half weeks? are you kidding me?

The Crafty Bastards Arts and Crafts Fair is going to take place in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C.  on October 2, a scant two and a half weeks away.  This is a well-known fair in these parts and beyond, bringing together tons of super-talented vendors from all over the dang place.  For me, it is exciting because I will be sharing a booth at said craft fair with my great friend of many years who co-invented a tres flattering dress called the Coralilie.  But it is even more momentous than that, as it is the first time I will be in any craft fair at all.  So I am completely freaking out.

Aside from ignoring my children, spouse, dog, household, and job so that I can hole up in my dining/sewing room and develop carpal tunnel, I am just becoming more and more aware by the hour that I have no idea what I am doing.  Sure, I have been to my share of craft fairs, being the craft-fair-loving gal that I am, but I am such a stranger to on-the-ground selling.  I couldn't even hold down a job at the Disney Store when I was 16.  I am planning to bring about 800 items and see what people like.  As I am planning to do this, the words of Jen Menkhaus, whose wonderful work I admired at Pile o' Craft in Baltimore is ringing in my ears--to streamline your offerings, thus preventing your guileless customer from wandering off in an overwhelmed haze.  But it does seem like a good opportunity for me, as the seller, to actually see with my own two eyes how people react to my work.  Maybe they will think, "What, no owls? No mustaches? I'm outta here."  Maybe they will think, "This beautiful youngish lady is just the person to write that book my publishing house has been looking to put out." Maybe they will think, "Why is this vendor staring at me as I look through her things?"

Oh, and if anyone I work with/for is reading this, just kidding about ignoring my job.  Have you seen my sewing scissors?

September 8, 2010

adventures in costuming, part I

Halloween season is upon us and my son has requested that I make him a costume.  For his first couple of years, he was content with the Children's Place/ Old Navy/ Fill-in-the-Blank Chain Store costumes that we inherited from our benevolent hand-me-downers, but this year I could tell he had something special in mind from the moment the first Halloween-themed catalog crossed our threshold.  For quite a while, it seemed inevitable that he was going to go with Octopus, since he has been obsessed with that particular creature all summer.  I was stumped by the arm/leg situation--would I incorporate his existing arms and legs into the eight required legs or kind of start from scratch?

Luckily he has changed his tune and decided that he wants to be a jellyfish.  I have some preliminary ideas involving polar fleece and various shiny/iridescent materials, and, actually, he had a lot of good ideas, too, mostly regarding the stingers (which seem to be the crux of the entire costume for him).  We have also determined that his baby brother will wear a complementary Sea Turtle outfit.  (Again, in a stroke of good fortune, we moved off of the idea of the baby going as Lobster--it would be adorable if executed well, but in my hands I am afraid he would look like he was dressed as a Chewed Twizzler.)  Because nothing looks worse than things I sew from a pattern, I knew that finding some delightful McCall's costume was just not going to fly.  So, I will chronicle this odyssey in crafting, beginning with my preliminary sketches herewith:

Wish me luck!  I heartily welcome any words of wisdom.

August 13, 2010

memories rock with memory rocks

There's something about that family beach vacation that is indescribable--a blur of sun-drenched days and breezy nights, a Mary Cassatt painting come to life.  One way that my family celebrated our vacation this year was with an activity that my sister and I always loved as girls, painting rocks.  The collecting is just as much fun as the painting, every single person in the family can participate, and the resulting product is something that can be a paperweight or rest in a dish back home.

Now, when my sister and I used to do this, we used giant conch shells and day-glo tempera paint.  This time round, I selected inexpensive, non-toxic acrylics in a range of colors and a set of brushes that came in a variety of sizes.

We collected the rocks together at the beach and washed them in salt water.  The kids had a ball finding their favorites.  Back at the beach house, we covered the dining room table in a few layers of newspaper and got to work.  Some people chose to commemorate something specific, like a caught flounder or a jellyfish sting, others chose general themes, and the youngest members of our family went "abstract" (though they can tell you exactly what it is they painted!). 

We dried our masterpieces on the front porch banister--also on several layers of newspaper--where they were the rightful subjects of much admiration.  What a wonderful reminder of these perfect summer days.

May 6, 2010

wait! don't throw that away! a wreath of recyclables

Who doesn't like to find a new use for things that are just lying around doing nothing?  I am always trying to think of projects that use items bound for the recycling bin.  It takes the pressure off.  So you mess up--it's not like you are botching up some zillion dollar material.  (Which, by the way, I have done, and it stinks.  Orla Kiely oil cloth, anyone?)

This wreath uses any lightweight cardboard that you have.  It could be holiday cards, the flat or folded kind, photographs, cereal boxes, whatever.  It does not require any form, just a gluestick, scissors, and a piece of ribbon for hanging.  I used leftover invitations to my one-year-old's birthday party, and we hung the wreath on the front door to welcome guests to his fete.

The steps are very simple.

1. Create a circular form out of lightweight cardboard (like a cereal box).  I traced a small teacup saucer to get the size I wanted.  Then I centered a glass and traced that so I could cut an even circle in the middle.  I created a second circular form with a slightly larger circular opening in the middle.

2. I cut pieces, approximately 2" x 5" out of the invitations.  I then cut that piece in half, about halfway down.  I used a pen to curl the pieces different amounts.

3.  I glued the pieces to the larger circular form, overlapping them as I went.  After I completed the circle, I glued the smaller circular form into the center.  I glued another, top layer of overlapped pieces, staggering them with the first layer.

4.  I taped two long pieces of ribbon on the back (the wreath is so lightweight that tape holds), tied the ribbon in a nice bow, and hung it on the door.

That's it!  But, while I'm singing the praises of recyclables as party decor, I have to show you the wonderful garlands my friend Kim brought for the party.  She sewed discs of papers she had lying around--even brown paper bags--and made these whimsical decorations.  We still have them up because they look so festive.  Moral of the story--before you toss it into the recycling bin, why not try cutting it up and turning it into something else?

February 13, 2010

my funny valentine

I know that a lot of people feel that Valentine's Day is a sham holiday created by greedy fat cat corporations to eke more money out of us.  That may be, but why turn your nose up at an opportunity to celebrate love in all of its various manifestations?  And this is one holiday where handmade always says it best.  There are few things that I find to be as heartwarming as watching my little boy create presents for the people he loves, and he had a great time making these snowmen for the ladies in his life (aka his grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and aunts).  If your child can do some very rudimentary cutting, gluing, and drawing, he or she can easily mass-produce these sweetheart snowmen for their valentines.

We happen to have a lot of toilet paper and paper towel rolls stockpiled because Bugsy, the pre-school's class gerbil, has a pathological cardboard addiction.  We invaded his supply and used one toilet paper roll per snowman.  We ran out of toilet paper rolls, so we cut a paper towel roll into two smaller pieces.  Other than that, all we used was red, white, and black construction paper, child safety scissors, a glue stick, and crayons.  As you can tell, I helped by cutting the three circles, hat, and heart needed for each snowman, but the rest was simple enough to be done "all by self," as my son says.  He even cut the scarves himself!

The assembly-line technique that we used was to line all the heads up and draw all of the faces at once.  Then we lined up the bodies to draw "buttons".  I pointed out exactly where the glue needed to be applied and handed him the right pieces as he worked, and we had a little army of snowmen in no time.  The toilet paper roll makes them stand up, but I thought it would be adorable for an older child to tuck a heartfelt note into that space.  I have to say that I was more than pleasantly surprised at how much of this my two-and-a-half year old could do on his own.  I am sure a three-or-four year old could truly do this all by self.  And the product would probably look a little more "Frosty" and a little less "Nightmare Before Christmas", but hey, these valentines are the genuine article.

If you have not tried crafting with your very young child because you think they are too young, please, please, please go ahead and do it anyway.  There are so many things that tiny children can do beyond coloring and fingerpainting, and it just feeds their imaginations and self-esteem in such a wonderful way.  The end product will not be beautiful in the classical sense, it is true, but it will look perfect to them, and, I am willing to gamble, to you.

February 6, 2010

one for the record books

Well! What a week it has been in our corner of the hamlet!

First, we got a brand-new washer/dryer.  We went with LG frontloaders.  You know, I really thought my old ones were just fine until we got the shiny new ones.  They practically sparkle in our laundry room, and the kids love to stand right in front of them and watch the laundry spin around.  I have absolutely no idea how to work them, but they play a jaunty, high-spirited tune when the cycle is done, and that's enough to keep me happy.

Then, we had the snowstorm of the century.  It is not too often that we are the epicenter of anything, but we were the epicenter of this storm, baby!  We are just buried up to our eyeballs in snow and loving every minute of it.  It is literally too much snow to play in.  Really.  My son tried to head out, sort of dug at the wall of snow for a moment, fell over, then gamely made a snow angel. 

Also, this week I finally took the plunge, followed the advice of many friends and, of course, my mother, and opened an Etsy shop.  I am now obsessed.  Etsy is the most fascinating universe and I could spend hours and hours looking at all of the fabulous things people make.  I know that I am fairly late to the game on this one (that became abundantly clear when I tried to select my username), but really, it is fantastic.  I fancy myself moderately crafty, especially for someone with no training who uses only scrap materials found about the home, but these people just blow my mind.

Take this crafter, Rosie, for example.  She makes these charming little amigurumi dolls, apparently by the dozen.  What is amigurumi, you ask?  I did ask, because as soon as I saw these I just had to know how she did it.  Amigurumi is a Japanese art of crocheting small dolls or animals using a single crochet in the round, worked in a spiral.  Have any of you ever done this?  I am now dying to give it a try.

If felt is your bag, then you would probably love all of the stuff that FeltloveCymru is churning out over in Wales.  Get a load of this totebag.  Is it not gorgeous?  This made me want to clean all of the lint out of my brand-new dryer, wash it on hot, and make myself a throw pillow.  Maybe that is not the exact technique, but you get the idea.

And (listen up, Rosie and Feltlove Cymru), if you wanted to send a thank you note to someone for, say, promoting your craft items for free on their awesome blog, you need look no farther than Sycamore Street Press.  Sycamore Street Press consists of, according to extensive research I have done by consulting the "profile" section of their shop, some sort of adorable husband-wife letterpressing team who appear to be awash in artsy friends who love to provide cutting-edge graphics for their cards.  The resulting cards are perfection.

I strongly encourage you to check it out if you have never visited Etsy.  And not just to purchase my whimsical items.  The idea of a legion of super-talented crafters busily creating all over the globe is enough to warm me to the bones.  Even in this snow.

January 31, 2010

a book pocket to be envied

I am back and I absolutely promise to post more frequently.  It is my Groundhog's Day promise to all 27 of you!  Now, on to a delicious little craft that is so ridiculously easy you will want to whip one up for every kid you know.

Debate over whether or not a 2 1/2 year old should still be in a crib aside, a crib-friendly book pocket is a delightful accessory for any book-loving kidlet.  This project took about an hour to make and it was so easy to throw together that my own book-loving kidlet actually assisted.  Which of course made him love the finished product that much more.

I came up with this idea while making the craft apron (note the use of that same bolt of green home dec fabric that I bought 10 years ago).  This book pocket is not just for cribs; it could be used in any bed with a rail situation.  I do not recommend this for children under 18 months for safety reasons.  We all know that any 18-month-old worth his salt would either have these straps unknotted and wrapped around his neck or use the whole contraption to launch himself over the rails in no time.

Before you begin, select a book that is a reasonable size to be hanging over a child's body.  This will be your size template.  I'll give you the measurements I used--my finished product was 9"h x 12"w with a 6" pocket and three 9" straps to tie onto the rail.  I made my straps, but you could use pre-made webbing instead. 

Now, cut your fabric into two large pieces (mine were 10" x 13") for the pocket back, one 10" x 13" piece for the pocket, and three 4" x 13" pieces for the straps. 

Sew the three straps (or cut your webbing).  Evenly space them between the two back pieces (right sides facing) with a good four inches hanging out and pin them in place.  Fold the piece of fabric for the small pocket in half, iron it, and pin that into place, between the two larger pieces, as well.  Sew around the three edges, leaving the bottom open and double stitching at the straps.  Turn everything right side out and iron.

Sew across the bottom with a double stitch.  Turn the pocket out so that the unfinished edge is tucked inside the pocket.  Done.  How easy is that?

I added an applique on the pocket using Wonder Under (one of my favorite things ever) and some scrap fabric.

May I also recommend two books to tuck inside your new pocket?  In our house, we absolutely love Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace and Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems.  Both are hilarious and delightfully illustrated--you will love reading them as much as your book pocket recipient will love hearing them. And I like to think that wonderful, creative, hip illustrations instill a certain design sensibility in my offspring.