Animal Ear Headbands

February 26, 2011

When it comes to sewing, I adore and admire the projects that many of my talented friends make, but I know that my skills aren't there yet.  I have a hard time getting things to look just right, and I often end up frustrated and with a finished product that I'm not exactly proud of.

Enter felt!  Felt is a material that is very easy to work with, mainly because it doesn't fray.  This means no heming, and less work, which is always a good thing.  I want to share one of my most rewarding felt projects.  This project was rewarding because it was easy, and because I ended up making something super adorable.  (Of course, the baby is pretty cute too!)

I stumbled across this post on the lovely blog hart+sew.  Her animal ear headbands are simply adorable!  I knew they would be something that I could make and that my girls could have a lot of fun with.  (And also, I want to fill the dress-up box with as many non-princess items as possible.)

I emulated hart+sew's ears as much as possible, with a few of my own additions.  Here's how you can make your own:
  1. Buy a set of six plastic headbands from the dollar store.  They only had one set, so I made six ears in total.
  2. Decide on the animals.  I wanted ones that most often appear in my daughter's pretend play.  I decided on: monkey, horse (the request was for purple ears), mouse, lion, pig, and cat.
  3. Draw a template on paper for each animal.  The ears measure one and a half inches across, and range in height from two to four inches.  For each ear I cut out one inner ear, two big ears, and one piece of interfacing the same size as the big ear.  Of course, I only used felt instead of fabric, because felt is my favourite thing to work with.
  4. Sew the inner ear piece on to a big ear.
  5. Sandwich the interfacing between the big ear pieces.  Sew around the big ear. 
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for the other ear.
  7. Use hot glue to attach the ears to the headband.
  8. Secure the ears with embroidery thread.
  9. Have fun with your new dress-up props!

Baby Dolls for Boys (and Girls)

February 25, 2011

When I first started sewing for my son, I was really excited about making him little stuffed animals. I made a handful of toys, but what I really wanted to make were dolls. I deliberated over this for a while, since he is a boy, but in the end I decided that I would make him one. I had fun putting it together, and making a tiny boy wardrobe. He named him 'baby'. I can't say he loves his doll as much as his cousin loves hers, but he almost always cuddles with him at night.

Fast forward a few years. I still had doll sewing on the brain, and I was looking for another excuse to make one. I needed to make a special gift for a friend, and I thought this would be the perfect chance to finally make a girl doll. I wanted to say 'thank-you' in a big way, and I knew that they would appreciate the time that goes into a handmade gift.

These pictures were obviously taken before there was 11 feet of snow on the ground, since you can actually see the sidewalk. And it just looks warm, doesn't it? I miss the sun.

I used the Kit, Chloe and Louise pattern from Wee Wonderfuls. By the way, have you checked our her site? It's adorable, fun, and she is really talented. I highly recommend this pattern, as well as her other patterns, if you are interested in sewing a little doll for someone small.

My doll body was made from two layers of quilting weight cotton, and her hair was wool yarn. The dress was made of a really nice chambray fabric, and trimmed with yellow satin ribbon. Her shoes were handstitched out of brown wool felt, and have tiny wooden button fasteners. I also made the most adorable pair of light blue and white striped bloomers, but it seemed a little indecent to post pictures of my girl in her underwear. Just know that they were really cute!

As much fun as it was to sew a little girl doll, I knew that my second son should also get a little doll 'baby' to cuddle with at night. I really love the shape and size of the Kit, Chloe, and Louise pattern, but it's just for making girl dolls, so that left me some room to improvise. When it came time to put hair on this little man, I cut out 'locks' of hair from brown wool felt, and individually sewed on each piece by hand. I'm not going to lie to you, this part took me quite a while, and was a little fussy, but I love the way it turned out.

The clothes were all patterns that I drafted. The pants are tiny denim jeans, with top-stitched details, and little back pockets. His shirt has an envelope style neck opening (to fit over his disproportionately large head) that was sewn from red and white striped knit ribbing. And his sweater was cut out of an old felted wool sweater, and has functioning buttons and button holes. When I finished making this doll's outfit, I thought, "this looks like something I would like to wear".

Well, do you want to hear a funny story? A few weeks later I spotted the prettiest blue vintage wool cardigan at my local thrift store. I just had to have it. It wasn't until after I got home and put it on, that I noticed I had just bought an adult version of this doll's cardigan. And here is a rather embarrassing photo of me wearing the exact same outfit as this little doll. Let's play "who wore it best". My vote is on the doll!

Make Your Own Kids Book

February 19, 2011

My daughter loves books.  We often sit down together with a pile of story books and read them all.  We both have many of her favorites memorized.  These favorites have simple, predictable text, and pictures that help to tell the story.  One of her favorite "books" to look at, however, is the photo album.  Like most kids, she loves seeing and hearing about things that are familiar.   I decided to take this love of the familiar and combine it with a simple, predictable text to make a personalized story book that is just for her.

Meet Daphne, the well-loved baby doll.

I created a picture book about Daphne.  The story is in a simple day-in-the-life format.  Each page has a picture of Daphne, and one short sentence.  Daphne wakes up, eats, dresses, and goes about her day.  My daughter and I planned and took the pictures together, and I edited the pictures using a free, online photo editor called Picnik.  My editing was basic: I upped the contrast and brightness, and added some text.  Finally, I printed the pictures at Walmart (for free - I had some free prints) and popped the pictures into a dollar store photo album.  The total cost for my project was $1 plus tax.

Here are some tips for those who are interested in making their own personalized picture book:
  • Plan to take all of your pictures vertical.  You don't want to keep turning the book around when reading.
  • Use a simple background.  Especially when text is placed on top, you don't want a lot interfering with the focus.  I used a white fleece blanket and propped it up against my daughter's bed. 
  • When placing text, leave lots of room on the sides.  Photocenters often crop your picture slightly.  You don't want the first letters or punctuation to be cut off.
  •  Write the story in your child's language.  Even if your child is pre-literate, he or she can still "read" the story by describing the pictures.  Use words that your child uses, or even phrases that he or she says often.  For example, we call books "stories," so at the end of the day when baby Daphne reads a book, the text says, "She reads a story."
Have fun!  We'd love to feature any similar books in a future Monday post where our readers show-off.

PS - Daphne's clothes and bedding were made by Carlee - aren't they sweet?

Tablecloth Diaper Changing Mat Tutorial

February 18, 2011

I recently brought home a pretty spectacular vinyl table cloth for $1.  I bought it with the intention of making a changing mat, but I almost loved it too much to cut.  I tried to think if I was ever going to use it as a table cloth.  The answer was no, so I decided to stick with my original plan.  Now that I have finished this project, I'm glad I took the plunge and used this fabric.   I have a tendency to hoard fabric, but I'm trying to be bold and just use the things that I love.  You would think it would be easier with thrifted or re-purposed fabric since I usually buy it for almost nothing, but sometimes it's harder cutting into something when I know I might never find fabric like it again.

One of my two boys is still in diapers, and I feel like he always needs to be changed at the most inconvenient moments.  Often he needs a clean diaper when we are somewhere without a handy changing table.  The changing mat that used to live in my purse was really cute, but only big enough for a newborn baby, or to go under a bigger baby's bottom.  When I'm changing my son in the dirty bathroom at Salvation Army, I need something big enough to cover his bottom and his head.  I'm not as worried about their bathroom as I am about my kid laying on that dirty floor!

As I've been thinking about making a new changing mat, my main criteria was to find a fabric that wouldn't crack after being folded, but was still wipeable.  I have tried using clear vinyl from the fabric store, both the kind that you iron onto fabric, and the type that you just layer on top, and it always cracks.  When I saw this tablecloth I knew I found the perfect fabric.  It had been folded for years in its original packaging, and there were no signs of cracking!

Diaper Changing Mat Tutorial
Folded Size: 5 1/4" x 7 1/4" (similar to a size 3 diaper)
Open Size: 20.75" x  14.75"
To make your own awesome changing mat, you will need:

  • 1/2 yard of wipeable fabric (thrifted table cloth, oil cloth, or something similar)  
  • Your choice of fastener.  I have a snap press, so I use snaps whenever I can, but you could use the type of snaps that you hammer in (found in the notions section of the fabric store) or 1" square of velcro
  • Thread 
  • Straight pins
  • Painter's tape (masking tape)
  • Sewing machine and needle
  • Optional: Small scrap of coordinating fabric
Step 1 - Cut out your main pieces

Cut out two pieces that each measure 15.5" x 21.5".  Round the corners by tracing around a cd, bowl, or whatever you have handy.  Cut along your drawn lines.

Step 2 - Make the Tab

Cut out your tab.  Cut out one piece that each measure 2.5"x 3" from your main fabric.  You also want to round the corners on one side only (like in the picture).  As you can see, I cut out one piece floral table cloth, and then placed it right side down on top of a small scrap of green linen.  I often do this when I am sewing together two small pieces.  This way I don't have to be too concerned about getting them to line up precisely.  I sew first, and then trim them after to make them the same size.  This saves me a lot of frustration!

Pin your two pieces of fabric together inside of your seam allowance(I used my presser foot since that is the easiest, and that works out to a little more than 1/4").  Pins will leave holes in this type of fabric that don't go away, so be careful to pin only very close to the edge.

Sew your tab, using the edge of your presser foot as a guide.  After you are finished sewing your two pieces together, trim off the extra fabric using scissors or pinking shears.

Turn the tab inside out, and edge stitch all the way around.


Set your snap stud or sew on the hook side of your velcro to the rounded end of your tab.  The stud or the velcro should be sewn to the side of your tab with the coordinating fabric if you are using two different fabrics like I did.

Step 3 - Attaching your Fastener to the Mat

I designed this changing mat to fold into thirds, and then into thirds again.  To figure out where your snap socket or velcro loop tape needs to go, fold one of your two 21.5"x15.5" pieces in half and measure in 5" from one edge.  Mark this spot with a water soluble marker.

Now that you have marked the spot where you need to place your fastener, either sew your velcro, or place your snap socket over your mark.  If you are using snaps I would recommend sewing a small square of fabric (finished size: 1.5"x1") onto your vinyl first.  This will keep the snaps from pulling through your fabric.  
Sew the square over your mark.  My three year old is very helpful as you can see!
Now put in your snap socket in the center of your square.

Step 4 - Assemble Your Mat

Take the piece of fabric that does not have either a snap or velcro, and fold it in half the same way you did before.  Make a mark at the halfway point.  With the right sides of your fabric facing inwards, carefully pin all the way around your fabric.  Again, you want to be careful not to make any holes in your fabric.   You will need to leave a space to turn the mat inside out, so leave a gap around your mark like shown in the picture below.  I like to mark the start and finish point with two pins so I remember to stop sewing.
Starting and ending with your double pins, sew around the perimeter, using your presser foot as your guide.  Remember to back stitch when you start and finish sewing.

Step 5 - Sewing on the Tab

Turn your mat so that the right sides are facing out.   Fold your mat into thirds so that you have a long skinny rectangle and the hole that you used to turn your fabric right side out if at the top.  It should be near the snap (or velcro) we sewed on earlier.  Grab your tab and snap it onto the mat.  Now adjust how far it comes out of the gap, until things line up nicely.

Hold together carefully (or use a paperclip) because you don't want to make holes.  Sew your gap closed by edge stitching around the entire mat.

Step 6 - Mark Your Folding Lines

To help you remember how to fold things up, the next step is to sew two lines on top of the mat.  To do this, fold your mat in thirds like shown below.  Mark your stitch lines with painters tape.

Sew along the edge of the tape, remembering to back stitch when you start and stop sewing.

Step 7 - Finishing Touches

All that you have left to do is to pull off the painters tape and trim your threads.  Fold up your mat and it's ready to be used.

Congratulations, you are finished.  Now sit back and admire your new changing mat!  Now if only it was for something more fun than changing diapers...

The Fun Jar

February 12, 2011

When I was an undergraduate student, my elementary education professors drilled into me the mantra: "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." 
I learned the lesson!  Planning isn't just for teachers - it's for everyone.  I've found that I have good ideas for things to do with my kids (or husband, or friends, or family), it's just sometimes hard to think of them on the spur of the moment.  (Especially when my kid is writhing about on the floor in the afternoon because she's so bored, and we can't go anywhere while the baby is napping.)  This is why I love my fun jar.
Once every few weeks, I sit down and make a list of some fun things that my three year old can do with me in the afternoon.  You can alter this to your own situation, eg. dates for you and your husband, Saturday activities for the family, things for your kids to do alone or with friends after school, etc.  My criteria are as follows:

  • fun
  • cheap
  • requires little preparation
  • novel - something that we have rarely or never done before

1. Collect the ideas.  The Internet obviously is a great place for ideas.  I love looking at Preschool Express.  Every month there is a new activity calendar posted for both toddlers and preschoolers. 

Here are some things that we've done in the past:

  • Giving the ice cubes a ride on the slide.
  • Building a "snowman" inside.
  • Making rainbow ice cubes.
  • Reading new books that I put on hold at the library.
  • Baking something sweet.
  • Making a seasonal art project.
  • Playing with water and sponges

2. Make the container.  This month I used stickers and cardstock to decorate a mason jar.  In January, I wrote the ideas on the back of foam dollarstore shapes and stuck them to the wall.  I was inspired by this blog post.

3. Decide how and when to use your ideas.  For me, I need some extra fun in the afternoons.  I've decided that I can come up with a million ideas and let my daughter choose as many as she wants, but it may work for you to just use one a day (or week).

4. Have Fun!  (Obviously.)

Click here to download my Winter Fun Jar List. 
You should also check out my March and Spring lists.

Best Easy 100% Whole Wheat Bread

February 11, 2011

Update: 10 May 2012.  For a lighter texture, try replacing one cup of whole wheat flour with one cup of bread flour.  You can also decrease the honey by half or more and not miss it too much.  

A few years ago I got a random email from my mum that contained two bread recipes and a spiel about something called "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day".  I was skeptical that it would work, but I thought I had nothing to lose by trying it.  And it was awesome.  I have since purchased and loved the book, and I think it's no exaggeration to say that this bread technique changed my life.  Okay, maybe it's an exaggeration, but honestly buy the book!  And no, I am not being paid by them, although I should be for the amount of preaching I do on their behalf.  I am an "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day" evangelist if there ever was one.

Although I love, love, love, their recipes, I couldn't get the 100% Whole Wheat recipe to work for me when I followed their directions.  I have made a few adjustments to the measurements and a few more to the instructions, but I have used their recipe as a starting point.  I consider this to be the best easy 100% Whole Wheat Bread ever.  I am confident that there are better tasting recipes out there in the wide world of bread making, but I have a hard time imagining anything easier that still tastes this amazing.  There are many things that are great about this bread, for example, it keeps well, is moist and chewy, makes your house smell amazing, but my favourite thing is that you don't need any special equipment.  I use an inexpensive Sterilite bowl that was a wedding present, and a wooden spoon to mix the dough.  If you also have a TBSP measuring spoon, a glass 1 cup measure cup for liquids, and a 1 cup for flour, you are in business. 

Gather your ingredients.  You will need whole wheat flour, water, yeast, honey, kosher (or some other kind of coarse) salt, and vegetable oil.

Start by pouring your oil into your glass measuring cup.  Fill it up to 1/4 cup.  Add the honey on top, bringing your total liquids up to 3/4 cup.  Pour it all into your large mixing bowl.  This is a fantastic trick that saves you from scraping your honey out of your cup.  When you start with oil, the honey just slides right out. 

Next add 3 cups of lukewarm water.  If you had any honey remaining in your cup, it will dissolve in the water and not a drop of that sweet nectar will be wasted.

Add your yeast and salt to the bowl.  I like to use the Red Star yeast from Costco because it is cheap ($4 for 2 lbs) and it works great.  The recipe calls for 1 1/2 TBSP.  I just eyeball the 1/2 because I'm lazy like that.  I do the same thing with the salt.  Add 1 TBSP and 1 TSP.  Or if you are like me, add one full TBSP and around 1/3 of a TBSP and have faith that it will all work out.

At this point, I like to stir it a few times to make sure that I don't have a clump of salt or yeast lurking anywhere. My three year old likes to do this part.

Next add your flour.  A quick word on flour.  I love King Aurthur brand, but it's too expensive for our grad student budget.  I have had good success with Gold Medal, and I can often find it on sale, so I most often use that.  Sometimes I feel lazy that I don't grind my own wheat to make flour, but then I remind myself that I'm not Henny Penny, and that I do make my own bread, so I'm not actually lazy.  I buy the small 5 lbs bags, because even though I go through a lot of whole wheat flour, it doesn't have a long shelf life.  Fresh is best when it comes to whole wheat flour, and old flour doesn't perform as well.

I typically start by adding 4 cups, stir it until it's all combined and then finish stirring in the other 2 1/2 cups.  When you first add all the flour it may seem like you'll never get it all mixed together with only a spoon, but trust me, you can do it.  Resist the urges to knead or get out your fancy mixer.  A wooden spoon will do the job just fine.

This is what your dough should look like when you have it all mixed together.  It will be quite sticky, but that is great.  Sticky dough makes moist bread.

Now let it sit on your counter with the lid on.  You don't want to create an airtight seal, so if you don't have a lid like mine that is useless for everything besides making bread, cover it with a tea towel or  loosely with plastic wrap.  I find that the ideal raising time is about 2 or 3 hours.  Don't leave it too much longer than that, or it won't raise as much in the oven.  But all is not lost, it will still be delicious.  I often start my bread either after breakfast, let it raise while we are running errands, or going on play dates,  and then bake it while I'm feeding my kids lunch.  Or if I start it at lunch, I'll put it in the oven about 3pm, and we will have warm bread with our dinner. 

After letting the dough sit for around 2 to 3 hours, set your oven to 350 F.  While your oven is preheating, spray your bread pans with cooking spray and cut your dough in half.  Quickly form your dough into a loaf shape and drop in into the pan.  I say quickly, because it will be very sticky.  It helps to have slightly damp hands (perfect if you have just washed them and couldn't find a towel).

Once you've formed both loaves, put a little bit of cooking oil (the size of a quarter) in the palm of your hand and rub it over the top of your dough. For whatever reason, this helps the loaves form a nice smooth, round top while it's baking.  When your oven is hot, put in both loaves, side by side, and set your timer for 52 minutes.  Knowing how long to bake your bread is the hardest part.  Depending on how hot your oven is, or what your flour is like, or your climate it could take a little more or less time.  I have found that I never bake for less than 52 minutes, and never more than 55.

Enjoy the delicious smell of bread baking and take it out when your timer goes off.  Remove within a minute or so from your pans, and place on a wire rack to cool.  If your bread is sticking to the pans, resist the urge to shake them violently.  Instead, try running a knife around the edges to loosen things up.  I have non-stick pans, but I keep a plastic knife (the disposable picnic kind) and use that as needed.

I have heard that you should wait to slice into bread until it cools because it has a better taste, texture and it will keep the loaf from drying out.  That being said, there is nothing quite so heavenly as a warm, thick, slice of homemade bread with lots of melted butter on top.  Here is my recipe.  Enjoy!

Best Easy 100% Whole Wheat Bread

1/4 cup cooking oil (not olive, use a mild vegetable oil like canola)
1/2 cup honey
3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 TBSP yeast
1 TBSP plus 1 tsp kosher salt  (if you only have regular table salt use just 1 TBSP)
6 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1. Mix everything except the flour in a large mixing bowl.
2. Add the flour several cups at a time, mixing with a sturdy wooden spoon.
3. When all the floor is mixed in, cover loosely and wait 2-3 hours. 
4. Preheat oven to 350 F and spray bread pans with cooking spray.
5. Divide the dough in half, and shape into loaves.  Place the formed loaves into your prepared pans.
6. Rub a small amount of cooking oil over the top of each loaf.
7. Bake for 52-55 minutes.
8. Remove from pans and cool on a wire rack until you can't wait any longer.

Painted Sugar Cookies

February 5, 2011

If there is something that you should know about me, it's that I love sugar.  Every holiday should involve lots and lots of sugar and Valentine's Day is no exception. 

We decorated some the conventional way (think butter cream icing, cinnamon hearts, sprinkles and chocolates).

The real hit this year was cookie painting!

My three year old had so much fun.  I love the vibrant colours, and the fact that this was something she could do by herself (icing a cookie is too hard for a three-year old, but this paint spread so nicely, which made things a lot easier).

I mixed food colouring with white corn syrup.  I used one tbsp corn syrup to five or so drops of food colouring.  We used baby spoons as paintbrushes.

I've had great success with my Sugar Cookie recipe.  Here it is, for anyone who is interested.

Plain and Simple Sugar Cookies
(from The Clueless Baker)

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
4 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 cup evaporated milk

1. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until smooth.  Add eggs and vanilla, beat until creamy.  Stir in the flour and baking powder alternately with the evaporated milk to make a stiff dough.  Knead a few times by hand to make it workable.  Refridgerate at least 10 minutes before using.

2. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

3. Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness.  Cut shapes.  Bake 8-10 minutes.

4. Let cool and decorate.

Happy cookie baking!

For the Love of Thrift

February 4, 2011

I met Jen several years ago when we lived down the street from each other.  Our first babies were born just a few months apart, and we quickly bonded over the important issue of what to do while the kids were napping.   In case it's not clear what this might be, we both love to sew.  It was even more fun for us when she moved next door and I could appropriately admire her latest project, and she mine, with greater ease.  One the reasons I love to sew is the external gratification, also known as praise, that comes with it.  And I couldn't have asked for a more excited and supportive cheerleader than Jen.   

Since my kids can't sleep all day, and therefore I can't sew all day either, one of the other things that I love to do is thrift shop.  I have been a thrift shopper for as long as I've been a shopper at all.  I have fond memories of searching the racks for vintage clothing in junior high school, and now that I have a place to decorate and kids to clothe, I still love the hunt.  I think it's part necessity and part addiction that fuel this flame, but I can't get enough of the rush that comes from finding something amazing for just a few dollars.   Let's look at some of my favourite finds, shall we?

Orange Lockers

After graduating from college with liberal arts degrees, I quickly found a job, but it took several months for my husband to find something permanent.  During those months of job searching, he started stopping by our local thrift store on a daily basis to look for furniture to spruce up our new little apartment.  When he spotted these orange lockers, he knew he hit the jackpot.  I love everything about these lockers, the sound of them opening and closing, the worn out paint, the bright orange colour, and it's been fun to try and incorporate them into our living room decor.

Blue Canvas Love Seat

Our last couch died (more on that later when I show you what I have done with the salvaged fabric).  This meant we were now in the market for something new to sit on.  I wanted something comfortable as well as fairly neutral to work with our eggplant purple chair and the bright orange lockers.  We found this little sofa at our local Salvation Army for $30 and it is the perfect fit in our small space.  And besides, blue is neutral, right?   


Since I love to sew, fabric is one of my very favourite things to buy.  And when it is combined with thrift shopping, it is the stuff of dreams.  And I mean that quite literally.  I've had dreams recently of buying fabric at the thrift store, and they were happy ones!  Not all thrift stores will have fabric yardage, but I'm surprised at how often I find it.  I'm always on the hunt for wool suiting, knits, and vintage sheets to use in projects.  Or to store in my ever growing fabric collection. 

Kids Ceramic Tea Set

I hunted for several months for a tea set for my son to play with, and I finally found the perfect one at my local Goodwill.  I almost left the shop without all the pieces since they were displayed in different aisles, but I spotted a few additional pieces on my way out the door.  I love the bright colours of the set, and I couldn't have found a better match for my own kitchen if I had tried (see the following photo of my own kitchen canisters). 

White Milk Glass Punch Bowl with Raised Grape Pattern

I have always been really attracted to bright colours and bold graphic designs, so it can be hard for me to decorate with neutrals or limit my colour pallet.  For example, I consider my blue couch 'neutral', (although Martha agrees with me on this point).  In any case, I wanted to find a white glass fruit bowl to bring some design harmony into my kitchen.  On one of my weekly trips to Salvation Army I fell in love with this unique punch bowl with a set of 8 matching punch glasses.  Considering that anything new would have been at least $20 from TJ Maxx or Marshalls, this was a bargain at $6. 

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