Tuesday, December 28, 2010

One night, our mischievous little elves hung mistletoe in our house.  As a result, Mr. Great and I have gotten lots and lots of extra kisses from our little ones (and a few extras from each other too).  I'm thinking of leaving the mistletoe up all year.

I've always wanted mistletoe at Christmastime, and I even scoured the shelves of Hobby Lobby and Joann for some fake mistletoe that would work.  But I didn't like the look of any that I found.  This year the perfect solution appeared:  Paper Source's Paper Mistletoe Kit.  It's very easy to put together, and the assembly is even fun (I recommend securing the "berries" with scotch tape before wrapping with floral tape though).  And really, it would be so easy to make something like this without the kit.  I realize it's a little late to share this tip, but who says mistletoe has to be put away with the rest of the holiday decorations?  After all, kisses are good all year long.

The ribbon in action.

Remember the gorgeous ribbon I bought from Sundance Catalog?  Here it is in action, on a tiny cupcake stand that we gave my sister for Christmas.

My sister is quite a baker, and she's started making cakes and cupcakes for other people.  What better way to showcase her beautiful creations than on a fabulous handmade cupcake stand by Jeanette Zeis Ceramics?  You really should check out Jeanette's Etsy shop, Vessels and Wares, for cake stands that are out of this world.  I'm not much of a baker at all, but I can't help coveting this set:

But this post was about ribbon, and Sundance's lovely velvet ribbon is on sale right now (extra 30% off listed price)!

Quickie Gift for a Fashionista.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Need a quick gift for someone on your list?  This took no time at all, and I think it turned out pretty cute.  If I had more time left, I'd make one of these for everybody I know.  But this is for a lovely lady who enjoys fine things and fashion.  (I don't know if she reads this blog, but hopefully I won't spoil the surprise.)

I know you're wondering what I put in there.  I wondered that too, for a while.  Then it came to me -- what woman doesn't need a Louis Vuitton basket for her microwave popcorn packets and retro, old-school popcorn bags?  (By the way, Etsy has lots of fun popcorn bags.  They're very inexpensive and make great gifts for people with kids.)

Pattern and Construction Notes:  I used NapKitten's mini fabric basket pattern, which really is more of a tutorial (it contains measurements, but no actual pattern pieces).  I omitted the fabric handles and, to save time, used cotton belting purchased at Joann instead.  I preferred having less lining folded over the exterior fabric, so I tweaked the pattern a bit there.  I purchased the LV fabric (surely not authentic) from Etsy a while ago, but I think there's still some available there.  The lining is Kaffe Fassett shot cotton, which has a very nice feel but is a little on the thin side for this use. 

First Christmas Dress.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I'd love to say that I made my daughter a Christmas dress.  I didn't.  I did buy her a fabulous handmade Christmas play dress by JAM Clothing Company, which she loves, but I don't even have a photograph of her in it. 

What I do have is a photograph of Big Sister's first Christmas dress (from before she was a big sister and before I learned to sew).  I had dreamed for years of dressing a baby in one of Ramonster's creations.  Not long after having my baby girl, I tracked down Ramonster herself (whose name is actually Kathie) and asked her to make my little one a special dress.  This is what we came up with. 

It was my dream come true.  That baby girl was my dream come true.  Now I look at the tiny dress hanging in Big Sister's closet, and the tiny red shoes that can sometimes be found on Baby Doll Zoe, and I can't imagine there ever was a Christmas without this beautiful little person.  For me, she is the magic of Christmas.  She and her brother both.

Christmas Birthday Tradition.

This morning, Mr. Great and I went to our daughter's preschool class and talked about a special family tradition.  Other families have talked about baking cookies, jumping in piles of leaves, lighting a menorah, exchanging ornaments.  We talked about celebrating a birthday on Christmas.  And I don't mean Jesus, though we do celebrate that too. 

My son will turn two this Christmas.  I still can't believe that we had a Christmas baby two years ago.  I think back to that day in amazement.  What a gift that was.

As much as the Christmas birth was a gift for me, I worry that it's a bit of a curse for Little Brother.  For now, the magic of the season and the merriment of holiday festivities seem like more than enough to make his birthday speical.  But I know a time will come when he wishes for a party on his birthday, or for a trip to a favorite ice cream parlor, or for his birthday not to get lost and forgotten in the celebration of the other December 25 birthday.  After all, how can he compete with Jesus and Santa?  I'm not sure what we'll do when that time comes, except to keep on trying to make the birthday special in every way we can. 

As I was driving away from school this morning, I had a great idea.  I think we'll pull out our old disco light (best anniversary present ever!) and have a dance party in honor of our birthday boy.  We'll turn up his favorite song -- Frosty the Snowman -- and get totally silly.  Now that's the beginning of a beautiful tradition.

Elves on Shelves

Monday, December 13, 2010

I heard about elves on shelves a few years ago, when our firstborn was a baby.  I believe the phenomenon originated with The Elf on the Shelf, which was then sold only at a few speciality toy stores (but is now everywhere).  The kit came with a cute little elf and a book about the "tradition" of the elf watching children and reporting to Santa about their behavior.  Apparently that elf would change locations at night, so the children would eagerly search for the elf's location in the morning.  I loved the idea of an elf bringing magic into the house at Christmastime, but I wasn't so sure about the spying part of it.  So I did a little Internet research, tweaked the concept a little, and came up with our own tradition.  Of course, loving handmade crafts as I do, I searched high and low for handmade elves.

Meet Sparkle and Nicky:

These two arrive in December with a letter from Santa.  The letter reminds the children to play well together, cooperate with parents, and remember the true meaning and spirit of Christmas.  It mentions that the elves report to Santa, but that's as far as the spying part of our tradition goes.  And it instructs the children that the elves are very shy and delicate, and musn't be touched.  Sometimes they bring presents -- this year they brought a dress for Big Sister and some boots for Little Brother.  During the day, Sparkle and Nicky sleep in their bed, which we made last year, including a pillow and quilt.  This is as far as my quilting skills go, by the way.

Each night, the elves make mischief.  Each morning, the children can't wait to see what Sparkle and Nicky have done.  This morning, the elves had every Christmas and winter book in our house (a lot!) spread out, covering our couch.  They were up all night reading!

Other elf mischief that the kids have loved, or that's on my list:

  • Bring treats:  chocolate, juicy pears, clementines, stickers, books, art supplies.
  • Hang snowflakes (handmade paper, or vinyl window stickers) on windows or from ceiling.
  • Put up a tiny artificial tree just for the kids, and bring ornaments with licensed characters (princesses!  Sesame Street!  Pooh!  Mickey!).
  • Put family panties/underwear/diapers all over the Christmas tree (quite funny to little ones!).
  • Make fake snow (stuff you can buy, or flour, or cotton balls).
  • Send emails of Elf Yourself dances or personalized messages from Santa.
  • Hang mistletoe over a doorway.
  • Leave messages on post-it notes all over the place.
  • Build things with legos and blocks (spell things).
  • Hide in the Christmas tree.
  • Put new pillowcases on the kids' beds.
  • Dress dolls and put them funny places.
  • Gather stuffed animals and little figurines together for storytime.
  • Decorate with garland or pipecleaner candycanes.
  • Draw funny things, including pictures of themselves and family members.
  • Make messes -- spill goldfish crackers everywhere, pull toilet paper down the hall, etc.
  • Get tangled up in things (ribbon, Christmas lights, beads, etc.).
  • Turn things upside down or inside out.
In an ideal world, Sparkle and Nicky would probably arrive on December 1.  But we wait until we have a Christmas tree.  They disappear on Christmas Eve, because they have to help Santa with his journey.  But they leave a nice note, and occasionally they send the kids cards.  

Happy holidays from Sparkle and Nicky!

National Family Volunteer Day

Sunday, December 12, 2010

It's always been important to me that my children grow up volunteering, that they learn to help others as they are learning to help themselves, and that community service becomes a fundamental, routine part of their lives from a very young age.  I found a wonderful organization about a year ago -- Little Helping Hands -- that facilitates family volunteering by creating and organizing volunteer activities for caregivers and children.  I've found myself so inspired by the organization and the founder/executive director that I volunteer some time to help write grant applications.  Although I often do that unpaid work late at night after long days of paid work and caring for young children, I love doing it.  I've been surprised how energizing and fulfilling that work has been for me.

The best part of my experience with Little Helping Hands is the volunteering we've done together as a family.  Each activity prompts relevant, important conversations and provides valuable context for so much of what a four-year-old notices and begins to process.  While helping others and serving our community, we discuss how and why people need help, ways to help others and our community, and why we should help.  These subjects often prompt very difficult questions, but the conversations are  important and necessary.

My daughter and I have packaged rice and beans for people who receive food assistance.  We have cooked for people whose children are sick and hospitalized.  National Family Volunteer Day was a chance for daddy and daughter to volunteer together.  They went to a local organic farm, where they collected eggs and harvested butternut squash seeds, which will be dried and used next year to plant a new squash crop.  I'm not sure who had more fun, the four-year-old or her dad.

Next Saturday we've got a date to help assemble grooming kits for children in need.  We've been talking a lot about the spirit of Christmas, and I'm thrilled that we found time to volunteer a week before Santa comes. 

Put National Family Volunteer Day on your calendars -- November 19, 2011 -- and plan to join us next year as we get out and help somebody!

Baby You Can Drive Your Cars

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I've got Beatles on the brain today, don't you?  Although "Drive My Car" is actually McCartney and not Lennon, here's a fun way your babies can take their cars with them and drive them wherever they go.  These Car Caddies are from a fabulous free tutorial by Homemade by Jill, whose blog I love.

One is for Little Brother for his birthday, from Big Sister.  We're going to put a personalized tag on the strap, with fabric-ink stamps.  The other is for a little guy who was recently adopted by some really wonderful people.  I wish we could get them together to drive their cars.

Do you have any idea how many Hot Wheels cars there are?  Holy smokes are there a lot of choices. Our local Target must have had hundreds of models.  One source, whose reliability I have no idea about, says that as of 2008, Mattel had more than 5,500 different models and 27,158 color and design variations of those models.  Mattel has reportedly sold more than 4 billion Hot Wheels since the line was launched in 1968.  Wikipedia says, "Mattel estimates that 41 million children grew up playing with the toys, the average collector has over 1,550 cars, and children between the ages of 5 and 15 have an average of 41 cars."  That's a lot of little cars.

Construction Notes:  We omitted the applique and stencil paint that Jill used, instead choosing fun car fabrics.  The print fabric is by Riley Blake, who makes some of the best boy fabrics out there.  The orange polka dot piping is by Michael Miller.  I bought it a couple of years ago and wish I had bought more.  The felt is from an Etsy seller, Benzie Bazaar, who offers very high quality wool-rayon blend felt in wonderful colors, at a very reasonable price.

Photo Gift Tags

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I've used Cardstore for Christmas cards for many years now.  They print postcards, which we love -- photo on one side, personalized text on the other.  No long Christmas letter to write but still an opportunity to let loved ones know what we've been up to, and less postage.  Best of all, Cardstore mails the cards for us.  Easy peasy.

This year, Cardstore has a new product that I'm loving:  Photo Gift Tags.  They also have Photo Business Cards, which are not holiday specific but are the same dimensions as the gift tags.

Here's a sneak peek at one of the gift tags I just ordered:  


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I took these during a walk after our Thanksgiving lunch.  I am thankful every day for this family that brings me such joy.

It's Hip to Use Clips

Looking for gift ideas for someone who sews?  Trying to put together your own sewing wish list?  It's that time of year, so I want to share something that I use all the time and really love:  sewing clips.

I'm a bit impatient when I sew, and pinning often feels like it slows me way down.  So whenever possible, I use clips instead of pins.  They're faster, they do the job well, they're easy, and I never poke myself with them.  I have two types:

The top ones are imported from Japan.  But the pink ones, my favorites, are actually alligator clips sold as blanks for making fancy hair barrettes.  They come in many sizes and colors, many available on Etsy (search supplies for "alligator clips").  I think mine are about 34 mm, but I've seen lots of colors in 42 mm, which should work just as well, from Etsy seller DIYornament.  I'm sure others also sell them.

Here they are in action:

I was going to tell you not to bother with the shorter ones, as I don't use mine often.  But then, lo and behold, they were perfect for holding piping.

So there you go, a cute, inexpensive gift idea that makes sewing more fun and efficient.  Hard to beat that!

Blocks for Me.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Want to see my new toys?  This is totally a guilty-pleasure purchase.  I couldn't resist the beauty of Sundance Catalog's ribbon spools in grosgrain, plaid, and velvet.  They come on fabulous wooden spools, with a pearl-tipped straight pin holding the ribbon in place.  The colors, textures, and weight of the ribbon are perfect.  I love beautifully wrapped gifts, and I can't wait to tie some of these gorgeous ribbons onto Christmas packages.  Until then, though, I'll continue arranging and stacking and rearranging and playing with these beautiful blocks that are just for me. 

I think these will look lovely in my sewing room.  I have some small picture ledge shelves that I plan to hang soon, so I already have a place to put these.  I'll happily reuse the spools when I run out of ribbon.  I've been looking for a good elastic storage solution -- wonder if these spools will work?

We love Kermit.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Remember when Kermit the Frog was on Sesame Street?  Why is he not on Sesame Street anymore? Did Elmo, Zoe, and the other "new" characters kick him off?  What there some sort of turf battle that I missed out on?  And if so, where was Miss Piggy with her karate chops?  

I think Kermit holds a special place in my heart.  He was pretty central to Sesame Street when I was a kid.  When I was in junior high, my aunt gave me a framed picture of Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, which hung in my room throughout high school.   Mr. Great does a pretty funny "Here in Frogland" impersonation.  

With all that, how could I not remake my Kermit shirt into something my daughter could wear? Doesn't it make you smile?

Doesn't she make you smile?

Pattern Notes:  This is another refashioned tee using the Lil Blue Boo Sienna Dress pattern, which I modified as described in this post.

Little Sewing Hands.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My four-year-old has shown an interest in learning to sew.  She doesn't have a lot of patience for hand-sewing (sounds like her mama!), though we've tried stitching on burlap and on plastic canvas in star shapes, sewing buttons, and working with felt.  We've used lots of types of pink and sparkly yarns and threads, and a lavender needle.  But acorns don't fall far from trees, and the girl is convinced that the real sewing is done on a sewing machine.

We started machine lessons a few months ago.  She sits on my lap, watches as I thread the machine and bobbin.  She raises and lowers the presser foot, helps guide fabric, and pushes stitch-changing buttons.  We talk about every step of the process.  Our first project was entirely her idea -- a scarf for her dolls with fabrics she chose from the scrap bin.  Next, at her urging, we made a panda doll by sewing around a panda illustration on some cute Japanese fabric, adding a back, and stuffing with cotton balls.  She loves that thing!  Unfortunately, so does the cat, and the poor panda now has a gash in its soft little head (did somebody lace our cotton balls with catnip?).  Our latest project is a gift for her little brother, who will turn two on Christmas Day.  This one was my idea, but it's been a team effort every step of the way.

(Please don't tell the little guy about this.  We want him to be surprised, okay?)

We started with a DIY i-spy kit from Pattern Play on Etsy.  We could easily have done without the kit, but I didn't want to bother with shopping for all the tiny trinkets, and I love the fabric list of treasures to find.  Big Sister chose the fabrics from fleece scraps sent to me by another sewing mama, and she chose the thread.  She helped with all the stitching.  Here's what she made (note the spool -- love that!):

We initially left space at the bottom for a personalized label, but Big Sister decided that she didn't want it on there after all. 

We're very excited to wrap this up and give it to Little Brother.  But how will we wait more than a month?!  I know, we'll just have to get started on our next gift project.  Stay tuned for that...

DIY I-Spy Kit Notes:  I noticed that a couple other Etsy sellers offer kits as well.  Violet's kit comes with fabric and a personalized treasure list.  InvitationCreation's kit comes with game ideas.

Bitten by the Vintage T Bug.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Whether you call it upcycling or refashioning, it's all the rage.  Everywhere I look, people are converting old t-shirts into fabulously funky kids' clothes.  Although I own more fabric than I'll ever be able to sew in my lifetime, I couldn't help myself and had to get my hands on some fun vintage shirts. 

So I shopped Etsy (though thift stores would surely have been better) and paid too much for a sparkly(!), rainbow(!) carebear(!) t-shirt straight out of the 1980s.  I cut it into a dress bodice and then began second-guessing my design choice.  Should I use raglan-style sleeves?  Should I use a waist strip of coordinating fabric?  Should I make the skirt twirly or a-line?  Oh no!

Then I did what any reasonable dress maker would do.  I ran to Target and bought a cheapie t-shirt so I could make a sample dress (again, nevermind that I have cabinets full of fabric).  I chose coordinating fabric that I had on hand, but I didn't bother to prewash anything (gasp!).  This is what I came up with, though the photo makes the neckline look a little wonky, which it isn't really:

My twirly girly loved it.  Apparently it was the perfect dress for happily making mudcakes.

Carebear is now on the backburner though, because I decided to first convert an old Kermit the Frog shirt of mine, which I wore many years ago for an artichoke/crazy shirt party (yes, really), into a dress.  Strawberry Shortcake is waiting in the wings too.  I can't neglect my little guy, so Captain America is in the queue for him, for conversion to hoodie.  (Let's not talk about the fact that my pre-kids self swore to avoid licensed characters.)

Pattern Notes:  I started with the Lil Blue Boo Sienna Dress pattern.  After studying lots of pictures of dresses made from this pattern, I decided to lower the neckline slightly in front and raise it slightly in back.  I also altered the front armpit-to-neck angle slightly.  I determined neckband length as 80% of the opening.  I added a waistband strip.  I used a circle skirt, guided by the MADE's calculation instructions, (radious = waistband measurement without seam allowances divided by 6.28).

Thankful Things.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I love November.  We're past the Halloween and candy craziness (mostly), and we've got a little bit of time before we find ourselves knee-deep in Santa craziness.  The weather is often gorgeous.  It's a good time to reflect and think about our many blessings.

We celebrate Thanksgiving all month.  Families have all sorts of traditions around Thanksgiving, and I love to read about them.  Here's our tradition.

Every night at dinnertime, we talk about things we're thankful for.  We all contribute, even guests.  Our nearly two-year-old keeps it simple.  He's usually thankful for pasta or Rita the cat, things he can see right then.  Our four-year-old really seems to understand the concept and, most nights, puts thought into her contributions.  She's almost always thankful that "we're all a family," but she has also said she's thankful that we all listen to each other, thankful for healthy food, grandparents, dance class, and her brother.  When she was first talking, every night she was thankful for "The Castle" (DisneyWorld) or "Winnie-a-Pooh."  It's fun to see her Thankful Things evolve.

We write our Thankful Things down, and we put the list in our special Thankful Bowl.  It's a small bowl, and by Thanksgiving, it's pretty much overflowing with blessings.  Someday I may get a second Thankful Bowl, so that eventually we can pass one on to each child, for them to begin the tradition with their own families.  But, for now, we cherish our one bowl full of blessings.

I recently read about a twist on this (I wish I could remember who gave me the idea, so I could give proper credit), which I'm eager to try.  One of these evenings, after talking about Thankful Things, we'll turn our paper over and talk about nice things we did for others.  Isn't that a great lead-in to the Christmas holidays, which inevitably take a materialistic turn?


Friday, November 12, 2010

Welcome to my tiny corner of the blogosphere. I've followed blogs for years, I've done a fair amount of online journaling, and I've made some very special friends through the Internet. Apparently all of that has led me here, to the beginning of my journey as a blogger.

I have never thought of myself as a blogger. After all, bloggers have endless time on their hands, take professional-quality photos, know technology as well as Steve Jobs, write exceptionally well, and have talent and wit to spare. Right? And bloggers are so self-absorbed that they think the entire world wants to read what they have to say. Right? Well, if that's the standard, then I should turn in my blogger badge now. I confess that I have very little spare time, I'm just beginning to learn how to use a grownup camera and am muddling my way through a free trial of Photoshop Elements, and I know technology about as well as Homer Simpson. But I've learned the past couple of years that creative outlets are good for me and provide important balance in my life. So whether or not anyone besides my husband ever reads this blog, I'm excited to explore my creative side in this new way. And if I can inspire somebody along the way, make someone smile, or make a new friend or two, then that's a great bonus.