Thursday, April 17, 2014

Brown Bunny & Friends

 "Everything is better with bunnies," my friend Kris wrote to me in an e-mail yesterday.

I had to chuckle over her comment.  Indeed, the bunnies have made this week a better one for me.  I'm still completely benched from my "shop."  Frankly, I can't even call it a shop anymore.  Now it's once again just an empty storefront awaiting a gut job and then new ceiling, walls and floor... with an optimistic estimate of three more months to completion... sigh.
 But I don't want to dwell on what I can't control.  So I find myself playing a whole lot more with my kids, force feeding the rest of my inventory to my poor little closets at home and making bunnies.

It started with "Rustic Bunny."  Knit up by my friend, Edita, who found the tutorial for it online (thank you to Jo So & Sew!).   We'd intended to use this pattern with our beginner knitting students.  But alas, weren't able to due to fire/flood calamity and ensuing closing of space.

We loved the idea that a the simple garter stitch square could be transformed into an adorable bunny.  A clever project that a beginner knitter could complete in a reasonable amount of time.

Edita's bunny turned out so cute, I decided to make one as well.  My first attempt was "Big Bunny" (with brown tail) leading the line up.   Then I decided to try again with a crocheted square instead.  My second attempt was "Gremlin" - named for his funny crinkled gremlin ears.  He's the guy in the middle with the grey tail and crooked ears. 

Using a crocheted square works too.  Just be warned that the single crocheted fabric ends up stiffer than the knitted garter stitch square.  The ears are harder to shape properly.

You know me, right?  Slightly obsessive.  I wasn't happy with Gremlin's messed up ears.  I had to try the crocheted square bunny again.  Third attempt is named  "Brown Bunny."  I like him best.  My son does too and has already claimed him as part of his Easter present.

And there they all are.  Lined up and ready for the upcoming Easter weekend.  Working with my hands almost always puts me into more of a zen space.  And I've worked out a lot of angst with these little guys.  I have to agree with Kris...

Everything really is better with bunnies.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Little House Series

When I was in third grade, my dad took us to live in Honolulu for six months of his sabbatical.  On that first day of school, I showed up to school with my hair neatly pulled back in a french braid, wearing a pretty blue and red homemade wrap skirt and little wedge leather sandals.  Fast forward a few months.  I still wore my hair braided back - but that was so I didn't have to comb it between trips to the swimming pool.  I lived in cut-off shorts and flip flops.  The flip flops stayed on only til I got to school and then I kicked them off at the classroom door and traipsed around barefoot in class with all my classmates.

Funny, the things we remember about being 9 years old.  The other memory that stands out in my mind is how much I loved reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder "Little House" series.  I couldn't get enough of these stories.  I read them cover to cover, one after the other.  When I finished the series, I'd simply start the whole thing over again.  I recall poring over the books while my parents "dragged" us about Hawaii to see the sights.  There's even one family picture where I'm clearly more interested in displaying my copy of "These Happy Golden Years" than in the fact that we were practically living in paradise!

And now, once again, we are reading these wonderful books.

I actually read the first six books in this series to my boys about 5 years ago when Si was in first grade and E in pre-K.

Then Si read those same six books for himself when he was in third grade.  And then history repeated itself one more time this year when E, now in third grade, developed a passion for this series.  So much so that after he finished the entire series he talked endlessly about all the details and  quizzed us over "Little House Trivia."  When it came time for E to pick the next read-aloud, he demanded we read these books again.

Si & I griped a little at first.  We lobbied for E to choose something new to all of us.  But E stayed firm on his choice.  I shouldn't have worried about being bored over a repeat read-aloud.  Turns out we all love these stories just as much as ever.

We polished off "Little House in the Big Woods" in under a week.  We're already three-quarters of the way through "Farmer Boy."  Our favorite parts of both books?  All the descriptions of the food.  Making maple sugar.  An attic packed with pumpkins, squashes and onions.  Frying up the pig tail.  Churning butter.  Making ice cream.  Stacked pancakes.  Apple and onions.  Boiling candy.  How much food can that Almanzo eat anyway?  Baking bread.  Smoking meat.  The corn dish that took Ma three days to prepare.  Bacon.  Fried trout.  I'm telling you, the food parts of these books are what we find especially mouth-wateringly fascinating.

Of course, we like Laura and Almanzo a whole lot too.  We think Mary and Eliza Jane just a little too "goody."  We had a good laugh over Ma accidentally slapping a bear.  We got a little nervous when Almanzo almost fell in the ice.  In short, we're having a marvelous time experiencing these books one more time.  It was a good choice, E.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fleece Owl

Stuffed owls made from fleece and felt.  One of the projects my kid students and I were working on right before my studio was derailed by that unfortunate night of the fire/sprinkler incident.

This simple plushie was project #2 for my very beginner sewing students.  Project #1 (small square pillow with hand embroidered embellishments) was designed so students would practice machine sewing straight lines on cotton fabric.  Project #2 upped the ante a little by requiring them to sew a curved line with the machine and, in the case of this owl, work with the slightly stretchy fleece.

If you (or your child) want to make an owl too, here's what you'll need to cut out:
  • Body:  To make the pattern, place a round plate or lid on a piece of paper and trace a semicircle.  Extend the sides to form a U shape. Draw shallow curve to form the top of the head.  Add a quarter inch to all curves to account for a quarter inch seam allowance.  Pin paper pattern to fleece.  Cut 2 to form the front and back of the body.
  • Wings:  Cut 2 "football" shapes from contrasting fleece to form the wings.
  • Eyes:  Cut 3 sets of circles (small, medium and large) out of acrylic felt.
  • Beak:  Cut 1 triangle to form the owl's beak.
Why felt?  Anyone hanging out with me this past year may have noticed I used a whole lot of acrylic felt when sewing & making crafts with my kid students.  The great thing about working with felt is that we don't have to worry about fraying edges or grain lines.  But the drawback is that acrylic felt will start to look worn very quickly if handled too much.  Hence the decision to use a more resilient fabric for the owl body and the felt for embellishment.

To sew the owl together:
  • First attach wings to front of body using a zigzag stitch on the interior curve of each wing (i.e., the curve that is not along the edge of the body).
  • Hand sew the 3 layers on each eye together using embroidery floss.  Your choice of color - do you want the stitching to blend in at each layer or do you want the floss color to pop?
  • Hand sew the eyes to front of body.  Again, I use embroidery floss here because I prefer the decorative look of it.
  • Hand sew beak to front of body.
  • Pin front and back of body together with right sides facing in.
  • Sew around perimeter of body leaving an opening at the bottom.  I prefer to sew with a quarter inch seam allowance.  I leave @2-3 inches open at at the bottom (between the ends of the wings).
  • Flip rights sides out.
  • Stuff with fiberfill.
  • Pin opening and whip stitch closed.

And there he is - a super cute and super cuddly owl.  Sitting next to his doll-buddy friend (more on her in upcoming blog posts).

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Boba Fett's Ship

Months of crazy planning.  Long hours.  Endless to-do lists.  In short - a buttload of work to create my pretty little shop. And it all came to a screeching halt a week ago when an electrical fire 3 floors above my shop triggered the building's sprinkler systems.  You know what that means, right?  What the fire started upstairs, the water finished downstairs.

The poor tenants directly under the fire?  Homeless.  And jobless too since their livelihood was stored in the computers the water dumped on first.  The school offices above me?  Destroyed.  They were wading ankle deep in water trying to salvage their computers when I got there the night of the fire/flood.  They risked their lives to save their data by pulling plugs in the middle of that wet mess.  Dangerous?  Incredibly.  Yes, they suffered some nasty shocks while pulling plugs, but they saved their data and have been struggling valiantly since to keep their music and art programs running.

And me?  Well, it's nothing compared to the devastation upstairs.  But still, the shop is now closed.  Don't know when I'll be able to reopen.  We're all fearful of mold in those damp walls.  The repairs I'm hearing about include things like "gutting" and "new walls and ceilings."  So for me, this has been a week of salvaging, sorting, lots of e-mails and all sorts of administrative stuff (my favorite).  Oh, and everything I salvaged from the shop has now taken up residence in my living room.

It's been a crappy week.  And you know what I keep thinking about?

Boba Fett's ship.


Let me explain.

When my son, Simon, was about 7 years old, he was completely Lego-crazy.  He obsessed endlessly over the stuff.  He loved piecing together and playing with all those intricate Lego sets.

There was this one time he spent days putting together Boba Fett's ship.  He was so excited about the project.  I watched him work through pages of instruction to build the ship brick by Lego brick.  Finally he finished.  He picked it up to show me... and I think he tripped... but no matter the exact reason...  The result was that he dropped Boba Fett's ship.  And in that moment, when all those pieces hit the floor and the entire construction fell completely apart, I saw Simon's heart break a little.

I felt so awful for him.  The kid's face crumpled.  He didn't even bend down to pick up the pieces.  I did it for him.  Then I spent the next 2 days putting the thing back together again for him.  But you know what?  The boy never played with Boba Fett's ship again.

Now back to the mess I find myself currently mired in.  It was the morning after.  I'd spent hours bagging everything I could into plastic in the middle of the night.  My boys woke up to find me weeping over the whole thing.  I explained what had happened the night before.  They both hugged me and tried to comfort me.

That's when I wailed out "it's like Boba Fett's ship."

They both knew exactly what I was talking about.

"It's ok, Moms," they said.

"But Simon never played with Boba Fett's ship again," I replied.

"Because I was scared of it," came Simon's response.

Then my littler boy came out with these words of wisdom, "but Simon did go on to build lots of other things.  And they were way better than Boba Fett's ship."


Something to consider.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

King of the Wind

It was my turn to choose our read aloud.  I picked up a copy of "King of the Wind" by Marguerite Henry.

My boys took one look at my choice and exclaimed that they weren't interested in some "stupid horse book."

Twenty chapters later (and almost finished with the book), they begrudgingly admitted it wasn't so bad after all.  And could I please read another chapter?

The joke though, turns out to be on me.  I had a vivid recollection of liking this book very much.  I remembered the description of the last day of Ramadan.  I remembered the character, Agba.  And then, it turns out, I was actually remembering the plot from an entirely different "stupid horse book."

Next time it rolls around to my turn to choose, I"m going to look for a copy of "The Black Stallion."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Grimm Conclusion

Almost finished with Adam Gidwitz's "The Grimm Conclusion."

We had a bit of a rocky start with this read aloud.  For the first ever, my boys traveled without me.  They had a three day head start on our mid-winter holiday.  So, for three days, I read aloud to them over the phone.

We didn't like it.  And, for the record, I didn't like traveling solo either...  Now, back to the topic of books...

I love it when my kids' eyes light up over a new book from a favorite author.  I've been pretty darn amazed over the details they remember from previous read alouds.  And, I think, the best is when they pick up books we've read together and read it all over again for themselves.

All three of the above have happened with the Adam Gidwitz books.  My younger boy actually sprinted across the store to grab this book when it first came out (we couldn't read it immediately because we were still in the throes of the Percy Jackson series).  "The Grimm Conclusion" references parts of the first two stories.  I confess to forgetting what happened all those many read alouds ago... but both boys jumped in to fill in the details.  And, already, E is telling me he'll be reading the series again soon.

Though my blogging has been sporadic these months, the reading streak continues on.  Long live the reading streak!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Cigar Box Crochet Caddy

I'm heading out to CA for the week.  So much to do before the flight.  Laundry.  Packing.  Paperwork... the list goes on.  But what have I been fussing about?  Making a crochet caddy for myself so I can craft in comfort on the plane ride across the country.

Make the caddy?  Or do my chores?  Guess what I chose to do?  Ha.  As if there was ever any real question.

I chose to use this pretty cigar box for my crochet caddy.  I've heard lots of people oohing and aahing over "rolls," but I prefer my supplies contained in boxes.  I think it looks neater, packs well and can be stored in visually pleasing stacks.  I'm envisioning one cigar box caddy for my embroidery supplies, another one for my hand sewing kit and yet one more for cards and letter writing.

The only supplies necessary to make the caddy are:
  • The box
  • Fabric (I'm wild about this "Golden Book" fabric)
  • Batting
  • Bias Tape (I like extra wide, double fold)
  • Standard sewing supplies & machine
I did not use a set pattern to make my caddy.  Just as I did with my studio's sewing caddies, I simply decided what I wanted the caddy to hold, where each tool should be placed and then started cutting & sewing.  Here are the steps that I walk through to create my caddies:
  • Trace the bottom of box/tray onto a piece of pattern paper.
  • Add a quarter inch seam allowance around rectangle.
  • Cut paper pattern out.
  • Use pattern to cut 3 pieces of fabric.  Two pieces will form front & back of caddy insert.  The third piece is used to make the pocket.
  • Use pattern to cut 1 piece of batting.
  • To make the pocket:  Press the third piece of fabric in half.  Sandwich binding across the folded seam and sew across.
  • Layer pocket piece, fabric rectangle, batting rectangle.  You should be looking at all right sides of fabrics.
  • Pin where seams should go to partition big pocket into a series of smaller pockets.  Sew.
  • Add either smaller pockets, loops of binding or loops of elastic to hold small boxes, measuring tapes or misc. supplies.  This forms the front of the caddy insert.
  • Pin front and back sides of caddy insert together - right sides facing in.  Sew together leaving a small seam open to flip right sides out.  I used a quarter inch seam allowance.
  • Trim excess batting off sides and corners.
  • Flip.
  • Slip stitch seam closed.
  • Drop into box/tray.
And voila - beautiful little caddy all ready to be loaded with crafting goodies.

Here's the one I made for myself.  Can't wait to break it out on the plane tomorrow.

And because I had an extra box and I'm still loving this fabric, here's the one I made to sell as a crochet kit at my shop.  I love it.  Wonder if anyone else will?