I Need A (Leather) Snake

March 25, 2011

A while back, I picked up a book from the thrift store that has become a favourite story around our house.  It's called, I Need a Snake, by Lynne Jonell and is illustrated by Petra Mathers.  I'm not quite willing to call it a classic, but it's a perfect book for a three year old boy.  The illustrations are fun, and the interaction between the mother and son is spot on.

The basic premise of the book, is that the boy really wants a snake.  The mother tries to appease him by first reading books about snakes, then taking him to see stuffed snakes at the museum, and finally to a pet store to visit real live snakes.  When she tells him he will have to wait until he "is all grown up" and "has a house of his own" before he can have his own snake, he decides to find one around the house.  I completely empathize with the mother that is not interested in getting a pet snake, despite her son's protest.  Luckily, he finds a sparkly green snake (skipping rope), wiggly white snakes (shoe lace) and dangerous black snake with a gold head (belt). 

Last year our town held a sweet harvest festival in a local farm turned park.  There were lots of booths, crafts, farm animals, but the real hit was the snakes.  The local high school Reptile Club volunteered to bring their animal collection to show to the community.  They had tons of snakes, a few turtles, and lizards, and they were all kept in clear Rubbermaid bins in a fairly small room.  It was a little crazy, and a bit creepy, but my son loved it.  One of the teenagers from church is in the club, and helped my three year old hold this pretty little red snake.

Since we had read, I Need a Snake, about a million times, and he actually got to hold a real snake, my son REALLY wanted a snake.  Lucky for him, I have a huge bag of leather scraps just waiting for a project like this, and even the right colours to replicate his favourite red snake.

This project would also work well with fleece or felt (basically anything that won't fray since I didn't finish the edges of the stripes). 

I started by cutting out several strips from red leather for the front of the snake.  I cut pieces that were 2 3/4" wide, and pieced them together until my strip was 32 1/2" long.  I didn't want my finished snake to be long enough to be a choking hazard, but still wanted it to look real.

For the stripes, I cut pieces of white and gold that were about 1 1/4" wide, and lots of smaller black pieces that were about 3/8" wide.   I didn't worry about making anything perfect since it was just going to be a child's toy, but I did use a rotary cutter for most of my cutting because it makes straight lines, and is faster than scissors. 

From start to finish, this took me about 2 hours.  Keep in mind I was also helping to make lego spaceships, getting snacks, changing diapers, and reading a few short books.  You could make your own snake faster if you have some time to work without interruptions. 

After we took these pictures, my darling boy proceeded to whip his snake around, and slapped me on the leg with it.  Maybe a leather snake wasn't my best idea after all?  But then again, he has brought it with him to preschool, and on several playdates already, so I'm happy I made something he loves. 

I like to think that if Mr. Snake got the wish of his heart, he would be outside basking in the warm sun.

But, since we had several inches of fresh snow on the ground this morning, he might do better inside.  The bathtub might be just the place for a nice little snake...

...or maybe he might like the freedom to slither around on the floor.

Whichever place he likes best, I'm just glad he is only made of leather and not a real snake.

Parties for Grown-Ups (and Kids too)

March 19, 2011

When I asked for advice from my nearest and dearest about what bit of wisdom to share with the blogging world today, a common response was, “write about all of the fun parties you have.”  I think a common misconception in the blogging world is that fun parties need to be perfect.  I always see pictures of beautiful homes with just-right decorations, coordinated dishes, beautifully arranged food, etc.  All of these elements are nice, but in my opinion, not necessary for success.  Today, I'm going to tell you about some fun and simple parties, that anyone can pull off.

Traditional Holidays –New Year's Eve, Christmas, Halloween...
This seems pretty self-explanatory. Invite people over, tell them to bring food, and play a few games related to the holiday. One New Year's Eve we played a version of the game hedbanz. Each person was given the name of a big news maker for the dying year, and then had to guess who they were. Our New Year's Eve party was kid friendly - we counted down the New Year in the London time zone, and had all of the kiddies to bed on time.  For Christmas, we played a guess that Christmas Carol game found here.  Halloween games usually involve lots of candy and other junk food.
Lining all of your friends up and telling them to eat a
licorice string really, really fast constitutes a good time.
Invented Holidays
For a few years, my friends and I had a good run of a holiday we called “Sunday Sundaes.” Sunday Sundaes were held on the second Sunday of the month. The host provided ice cream, and guests brought ice cream toppings. This was basically an excuse to get together, and indulge our collective sweet tooths. I've seen some other fun ideas like an ultra sound reveal party, or a pi party.
Murder Mystery
Participants are given a role in advance, and asked to prepare by dressing and acting their part. During the party guests are given clues and then asked to discover who the murderer was. The game costs $20, and can only be used once, however, it can only be used once, so many people will loan or give their used game to you. When I hosted a murder mystery party, I found my game via freecyle.
Spouse Olympics
One summer when I was away, my friends had an awesome party, and I plan to imitate it sometime soon.  The event was called "Spouse Olympics."  Each couple had to do a series of different lifts and acrobatic feats using each other as the weight.  For example, the lean-in-kiss, the turtle carry, bench press and a wheel-barrow race.  The couple that won the most events was the winner!  There may or may not have been a home-made trophy involved. 
Minute to Win It

There is a game show on NBC called Minute to Win It.  On the show, participants are given ten challenges using household items.  If all of the challenges are completed successfully, the winner receives a million dollar prize.  We have had a lot of fun completing the challenges with our friends, competing as teams (no prize money involved).  Go here for a list of the challenges.  For our events (and my husband and I have done this a few times with a few different groups), we downloaded the blueprints from youtube and saved them to our laptop to play at the party.  We divided the group into two teams, and had one person from each team complete the challenge.  This was repeated until one or both teams was sucessful.  Some challenges work best if you have a big space (like a church gym), but many can be done in your living room.
Penny Hose
The Nutstacker

Stack Attack

Free PartyHere is the email that I sent to my friends a while ago about my "free party." 

Come to my Free Party!

What: A chance to bring stuff that you don't need or use anymore and share it with the others at the party.  The idea is not just to get rid of junk, but to get something new (and free!)  Some ideas of things to bring include: books, movies, toys, games, kitchen stuff, clothes...

When: Saturday, Feb. 19th
Time: 5pm
Place: My house

Requirements: Come with food to share for the potluck, something to give away for free, and take something home with you when you leave the party.

This party was so much fun!  I got rid of so much stuff and was happy to see it go to good homes.  We also got some pretty cool things too.  One fun thing that we added, was to have everyone tell the story of one of their items: how they got it, if they used it, and why they were parting with it.

Final Tips

In my opinion, all parties should be potlucks.  Most people want to bring something when they come to your house.  Potlucks are a great way to share the work, and also try all the great food that your friends bring.  One of Carlee's favourite potluck food is this pecan pie.  I tried it at Christmas time and have been dreaming of it ever since. 
Chocolate-Pecan Tart
Picture from Martha Stewart
Something else that I've learned in the past few years, is that if I want something to happen, I should make it happen.  If I want to have a fun party, I need to do some inviting.  My policy is that I invite everyone who I think might possibly enjoy the party.  If everyone I invite comes, it will probably be a tight squeeze, but I'd rather have too many people than too little.  Even (or especially) when my house is full, I have a great time.

What about you?  Do you have any tips for parties?  What fun things have you seen or done in the past?

Homemade Underwear

March 18, 2011

I often joke that I will have "made it" in life when we have a dishwasher, a yard, and air conditioning.  For the record, we are pretty far away from all of these things.  Although I am no where close to "making it" based on my own criteria, I think it's pretty clear that I'm at least on my way to becoming a crazy lady.  Why, you ask?  I think since I started sewing diapers, and and then later underwear, I have really advanced along my path to crazy.  It's debatable whether on not I've already arrived.

Now that I've got that off my chest, let's talk about sewing underwear shall we?  Last year, when we were potty training our son, I made 4 pairs of underwear using the Little Fishies Undies Pattern.

I really like this pattern, but I think he prefers wearing boxer briefs.  I have been toying with the idea of making some, but I was too lazy to make the pattern, and too cheap to buy one.  Lucky for me, someone else made one for me in just the right size.  And her pattern is free.  Awesome, right?


I made two batches of two pairs, and both the brown striped pairs and the navy blue pairs were made with soft thrifted t-shirts. This pattern is awesome and I really recommend it, although I made several changes to the pattern and instructions.  First, when I cut out my leg pieces, I lined the bottom of the pattern up with the finished hem of the t-shirt I was using for fabric.  This saved me from finishing the bottom edge.
I didn't bother with sewing a fly, or even a fake fly, and this was a bit faster.  On the first set I made, when I sewed the two middle pieces together, I didn't have enough stretch in the seam.  After my son wore them for a few minutes, he complained that they were too tight.  I had to unpick the seam, and sewed the  old seam back together with a triple zig-zag stitch (without taking apart any of the other seams).  

The second time around, I bypassed this problem by taping the back middle and front middle pieces together, and only cutting out one middle piece.

The last change I made, was to put in an enclosed elastic waist band.  The pattern has the elastic sewn directly to the undies.  I wanted a cleaner look and a more comfortable band, so I cut out a strip of ribbing the same length as my elastic (for size 3/4 I used 19" of elastic with 1" overlapping).  On the brown pair, I actually used the body of an old stained onesie, and it was the perfect width.  This saved me the trouble of even sewing my ribbing into a tube.  My elastic was 1" wide, so I cut my ribbing to be 2 3/4" wide.  After making my tube of ribbing, I ironed it in half (width wise) and put the elastic inside.  Then I just sewed it to the top of the undies.  
I'm pleased with how they turned out, and I have plans to make more.   I've got to live it up while I can still get away with making underwear for my boys.  I may be on the road to crazy, but I think I will draw the line somewhere!

Don't Throw It, Grow It!

March 12, 2011

A few years ago, everyone in my husband's family had the same idea for Christmas.  Quite a few different members of the family independently stumbled across an awesome book, and then surprised each other with it for a Christmas gift.  We were one of the lucky many to receive this present.  The book was called Don't Throw It, Grow It: 68 windowsill plants from kitchen scraps, and it has rocked my world.  (Just like Carlee, and her bread book, I'm a bit of an evangelist.)

The premise of this book is that you can take the seeds, pits, or cuttings from fruits, vegetables, and spices, and actually grow them in your own house.  I'd certainly tried planting planting beans or avocado before, but kiwi or papaya? Wow!  Planting these was a totally new concept to me.  (Not to mention the new plants that the book introduced me to like malanga and loquat.)

Now I'm not going to lie to you.  My husband and I have been planting our "kitchen scraps" for over two years now, and we have yet to harvest and eat something.  We've also had our fair share of total planting failures (read: no-show plants, and even a rotten seed or two).  However, it's been fun!  It is so rewarding to plant something from seed , and watch it grow into a mini-tree.
Papaya - planted from seed early 2009.
The Don't Throw It, Grow It! book gives you details on how exactly to get your seed, plant it, and treat it right for optimum growing, but don't think that you need this book to tell you how to experiment with seeds, dirt, sunlight  and water.  That's what the internet is for, right?

You also don't need a lot of supplies to grow things in your home.  Dirt is essential for most plants, and of course water and sunlight in varying degrees are too, depending on the plant.  Pots are helpful, but yogurt containers will work nicely, too.
Pomegranates, grown by my Mother-in-law.
We have been truly surprised by the look of plants whose fruits are familiar.  I live in Canada, so most tropical plants are a rare sight to me, especially in their seedling form.

The mango plant has ridiculously large leaves.  Grown by my brother-in-law and his wife.
You will also be amazed at the tenacity of some plants - the sheer volume of leaves and roots that some plants put out are incredible!

This sweet potato, shown in early and later stages,

was also grown by my brother-in-law and his wife.  Isn't it amazing?
If you've got kids around, growing plants from the seeds of food you actually eat is a great way to teach the life-cycle.  I'm sure many kids do that think food just magically appears in the grocery store or in the fridge at home.  Any of you have husbands that think this way, too?  Early this week, I planted beans and wheat with my three-year old daughter.  When we discovered the teeny green plants poking through the dirt, the look on her face was priceless.  She acted like her own child had just been born.
Can you see the "babies"?  Two wheat and one bean sprout.
I hope I've inspired you to plant a few seeds today.  Have you had any success planting seeds from "scratch"?  Please tell us about what green things are growing at your house.

Suede Elbow Patches

March 11, 2011

I had something else on deck for sewing this week, but then my son tore a little hole in the elbow of his green and white striped sweater.   Mending is a great way to save money, and give new life to things that would otherwise end up in the garbage. 

My son is three, and he is hard on clothes.  Usually things are stained and ripped by the time he grows out of them. This time, his sweater got a hole in the elbow, but it was still in great shape in all other ways.  My baby has the cutest striped green and blue sweater with elbow patches, and I thought it would be cute to patch this sweater so that they matched.  As a side note, I am a shameless coordinator of my kid's (and sometimes the adult's) clothing, and I plan to keep doing it as long as possible.  Who could possibly resist a little boy in a striped sweater with suede elbow patches?  What about two little boys?  It would be impossible - I love the mini-professor look!

This is such a fast project, and it would be great even with a perfectly whole sweater.  From start to finish, I spent about 30 minutes doing these two patches, and I love the result.  This is my favourite kind of project - fast, easy, and it looks great. 

As you already know, I have a ton of leather sitting around for projects like these, so I dove right in.  Don't be intimidated by leather, it's really not as hard to work with as you may think.  If you need ideas about where to find leather and tips on sewing with it, read more about it here.  Or if you aren't ready to make the plunge, try using another fabric.  Corduroy would look dashing as well, but keep in mind that you will need to finish the edges to keep your patches from fraying.  In addition, you may need to bulk up woven fabrics a little bit with some fusible interfacing.  
Suede Elbow Patches Tutorial

March Fun List

March 5, 2011

Since my fun jar post was so well received, I decided to share with you another month's worth of fun activities for you to do at home with small children. 

This month's list has 31 activities, one for each day of the month of March.  (Sorry for not posting it sooner, you'll get to play catch up for a few days.)  For March, I bought a pack of foam shamrock-shaped stickers from the dollar store.  On each sticker, I wrote the numbers 1 through 31.  Every day, we choose the number for the date, and stick it to our counting sheet (this is a great precursor to calendaring for my little one).  After we stick the number to the sheet, we get to do something fun.  At the end of  the month, we'll have done 31 fun things, and a calendar to prove it!  Click here to download my March Fun List.

One of the things on the list this month is called Rainbow Stew.  The instructions for this were found in a library book, Mudpies to Magnets.  My daughter loved it!

Rainbow Stew is perfect for little hands that like to touch, but a lot cleaner than playdough or magic mud.  This colorful, squeezable stew stays in the ziplock bag, and doesn't get all over the carpet.  It's also a great way for your budding young scientist/artist to experiment with mixing colours. 

Recipe for Rainbow Stew

In a medium pot mix:

1/3 c sugar
1 c cornstarch
4 c water

Heat over medium heat stirring constantly.  When mixture is thick, remove from heat and let cool.

 - From Mudpies to Magnets

Once your mixture is made you are ready to play.

1. Separate the mixture into 4 (or more) bowls.  Add food colouring of desired colours to each.

2. Put 2-3 tablespoons of each color into a ziplock bag with a good seal.  You may wish to duct tape the end closed.

3. Play to your heart's content.

4. Hang your child's artwork on the wall or in the window.  Enjoy your beautiful rainbow creation!

Leather Baby Shoes

March 4, 2011

When I first started really sewing for my son, I had a friend with a small business making leather baby shoes.  I was in awe of her, and convinced that sewing with leather would require way more skills than I had.  She talked me into giving it a try, and I'm so glad she did.  Since then, I have made tons of leather baby shoes.  I sewed some for my boys, and gave away lots as gifts.

My husband even volunteered my services several times, to make shoes for fund raising auctions.  I've also sold a handful of my popular "BYU" version to friends (and strangers).


Since I've made leather baby shoes so many times, I'm actually a little sick of making them.  I will sew a pair by request, but when it comes time to making a baby gift, I almost always choose to do something else.  This week on my thrift store rounds, I came across this awesome gold leather woman's top.  I'm sure the cashier thought I was crazy when I bought it, but the leather was in good shape, a nice weight for making tiny shoes, and GOLD.  It certainly helped that I paid $2 for it (since it was 50% off).  

Finding this leather put me in the mood to sew another pair of leather shoes.  I initially planned on sewing a pair of moccasins for my 18 month old son, but once I started cutting up the top, I realized the leather was too soft for toddler shoes.  Instead I made them tiny - for a friend's new baby girl.   Here is the end result.

Adorable, right?  This is the second pair of moccasins I have made, and for this version I made them similar to the mocs from Freshly Picked.  

Are you interested in sewing a pair?  Don't be intimidated, making leather baby shoes is a very doable project, even for a beginner sewer.  Here are a few tips:

  1. Finding leather takes a little work since you can't usually buy leather at most fabric stores.  To make baby shoes you only need fairly small pieces.  One place I have found leather is from a leather working store (or a boyscout shop) or tannery by digging through their scrap bin.  They will typically sell their scraps by the pound, and this is a good way to get a variety of colours for a good price.  My other source is to cut up an existing item (like a coat, or purse).  Thrift stores are great for this, but make sure you are getting a good deal.  I have noticed that some thrift stores sell their leather clothing for a lot more than I'm willing to pay.  Another thing to consider when re-purposing leather goods is to find pieces with few seams.  Since sewing will make permanent holes, you can only use the parts in between the garment's seams. 
  2. Some leather is fairly stretchy.  For starting out, I would suggest looking for leather that doesn't have a lot of stretch.  It will sew more like a woven and you will spend a lot less time cursing.
  3. When sewing your leather, use a leather needle, increase your stitch length, and use a non-stick presser foot.  If you don't have a non-stick (teflon) foot, try covering the bottom of your regular foot with painter's tape.  Your regular metal foot will stick to the leather (especially if it's hot and humid) and make it hard to sew.
  4. Since you can't pin leather (it will leave holes), use paperclips (or small binder clips) to hold things together while you sew.  One other tip is to glue down shapes around the edges before you applique them on.
  5. When  appliqueing shapes, I find it easiest to turn my wheel for each stitch instead of using my foot petal.  This gives me more control and keeps me from making mistakes.  
  6. When I started, I used this pattern and instructions.  I do a few things differently (I don't punch holes for my elastic - I cut slits), but her instructions are helpful to understand how the shoes are constructed.  I have seen a few patterns for sale on etsy, and other places, or you can make your own by tracing an existing pair of shoes (turn them inside out first).  I promise this is easier than you think.  One thing that is great about this style of shoes is that the pattern is really forgiving.  If your heel piece is a little to tall or long, it won't matter all that much.  
  7.  Don't worry if they aren't perfect on your first try!  If you are making them for a walking or crawling baby, it won't take long before they are destroyed anyways.  I felt like my first 3 pairs were not great, but once I had good working patterns and I knew what I was doing, I could knock out a pair during one nap.
baby shoes with felt uppers, and leather soles and details

I hope this inspires some of you to take the plunge and try making a pair.  Any questions?  Leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to help.  Happy shoe making
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