Wednesday, June 2, 2010

YAY for Dritz Fray Check!

I was going to blog about napkins, but while I was contemplating what I wanted to say, I was distracted by my deep and abiding love for Dritz Fray Check. See it there? Those two bottles inside my sewing box? There's a third in my husbands basket in the bathroom, as well as a fourth in my bathroom basket. There's a fifth bottle in the laundry room. I should put one in my sons room, and I'm seriously considering keeping one in my glove box in the car.

If you are a sewer, you might already know about this stuff. If you are a sewer and don't know about this stuff, holy cow are you missing out. If you are not a sewer, you still need to know about this stuff! Everyone should know about this stuff!

It does exactly what it says, it "checks" fraying. When you feel the fabric of the knees on your jeans or your kids jeans getting a bit thin and you just know the very next knee-bend will tear a big hole in it, it's time for the Fray Check. Pop the cap, snip the tip, and smear it all over the thinning fabric. It's a bit gummy and takes a few minutes to dry, but it's completely washer safe, and that pant knee will never get a hole in it. It will feel a bit stiff, too, at first, but it softens up with wear, yet holds strong.

When a piece of clothing tears and it seems like the rip is too thin or shredded to be fixable, bust out the Fray Check. Be generous, smear it all along both sides of the tear, where ever it is you want to sew, let it dry, and you will be able to repair the tear that seemed impossible.

Thinning sock heels, fine fabrics like silks and satins that are such a pain to sew for projects, canvas sneakers, even yarn. I got a hole in a thick cable knit sweater over the winter, that I love. The sweater, not the hole. I am not a knitter. I don't even know if you can knit a sweater hole closed. I don't know how other people fix holes in their sweaters. What I do is treat the ends of the yarn with Fray Check, let it dry completely, and sew the ends back together with tiny stitches. Can't even tell there was a hole there.

This stuff has saved me so much money over the years! If I can catch the jeans before the hole starts, I can avoid having an unfortunate looking patch or having to buy new jeans that are perfectly good except for the stupid hole in the knee, you know? My whole family knows to grab one of the many handy bottles and smear it all over a thin area or a tear as soon as they spot one.

I love this stuff. It's sold at any fabric store and a bunch of crafts stores as well. You can buy it one bottle at a time but, do yourself a favor, just get the two-pack.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Murals for Dummies

I can't draw. I feel like I should be able to, you know? I have a picture in my head of the thing I want to reproduce, but when pencil hits paper it's as if all the little neurons in my brain in charge of making my hand move burst into wild stomach clutching laughter as they shut down communication to the hand and watch as I painfully and poorly attempt to draw the thing I had pictured in my head. Every once in a while, just to mess with me, they let enough brain-hand communication happen to fool me into thinking "maybe this time!" as I draw one perfectly even and beautifully representative half of a heart shape. Then, as surely as Lucy is going to pull the football away from Charlie Brown at the last second, the Neurons slam a cover on the creative flow and, like a deflated balloon, the other half of the heart shape comes out looking Grinch-like, all wobbly and crooked and two sizes too small.

But I digress.

The point is (look! there it is!) I can't draw. So when I wanted to put a happy little summer-time mural on my sons wall when he was two, the usual "I'll draw some pictures and paint in the colors" was not an option for me. Plus, painted murals are a beast to paint over again later when it comes time to sell the house, so I immediately turned to my go-to medium: Paper.

First off, paper is a way cheaper way to make a mural, even a big one, than painting. You can get a block of colorful 8.5" x 11" cardstock craft paper practically anywhere for, like, $10. That, and a roll of masking tape is your total expense. Try getting enough mural paint for under $20! Second, you need practically no actual artistic talent at all to utilize it! Huzzah!

My son has been a freak for the outdoors pretty much since birth. He'd be feral in the back yard year 'round if we'd let him, but it gets cold here and then Child Services would come and blah blah blah. So when the weather started to turn and we couldn't go outside as much anymore, I made him a permanent summer on one of his bedroom walls.

I wanted to do a big leafy tree with a sun and some little animals, etc. The tree trunk was easy. I laid about 5 sheets of brown cardstock in a long line (the long way) and taped the seams together with the masking tape. Then, with a pencil, I drew a long slightly squiggly line down the center in what I thought looked like a good trunk-y kind of wobble. Then I cut along the line, and flipped the whole thing over. From the front, it was doing a pretty good impression of a tree trunk. I used the scrap half to make a nice long branch, and, voila, tree. Anyone can draw a wobbly line, I promise.

The key to all the rest, really, is tracing. As per the usual, I manged one half of a nice looking leaf. So I cut that side out, folded it over, and traced the mirror image. Then I cut the whole thing out and used it as a template for all the other leaves. Same with the apple, the butterfly, and the blue birds' wings.

See how the wings are seperate from the body? Of course the neurons let me draw one lovely wing. The next attempt looked like the poor thing had suffered a horrible accident with a lathe. So I traced the wing and added them seperately. The flower is made of a series of seperate circles, and the suns' rays are individually traced bits as well.

As for the bird and the squirrel, or whatever pictures you are attempting to create, just keep it simple. A very simple line drawing that is basically a representation of the thing you are portraying will do very nicely and look very cute and cartoony. When in doubt, look up a picture of the thing. I still have a dozen pictures of squirrels on my computer.

The leaves were the most time consuming part, but I really wanted to do them all seperately so it would look nice and leafy. So I spent a couple hours watching a movie one night while I traced and cut them all out. I did most of the rest of the pieces as well, and laid out the leaves in the pattern I wanted, then just put loooong strips of masking tape across their backs to turn them into "sheets" of leaves. The next afternoon it took no time at all to put the whole thing together. Instant mural. Because it's all just taped up there with little tape loops on the backs of the items, I was able to move things around and add things to areas where I thought I needed some more (my crowning triumph, the bee hive, which is all free-hand drawn...on one side, of course).

So, plus points: Cheap, relatively quick, doesn't require drawing or painting skills, not permanent, no stinky paint smells, no drying time.

Minus points: Potentially thousands of tiny masking tape loops, and you will end up replacing tape here and there over the years as it loses its stickiness. But, the one in my sons room has been up for 3 years now, and still looks as bright and cheerful as it did the day I installed it.

Happy muralling!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Sponge Ball

(Sung to the tune of "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things):

"Lampshades exploding and minor concussions,
I've told you children NO throwing couch cushions!
Look out the window, it's raining some more!
Why can't I find a ball safe for indoors?

When the day's long, when the kids fight, when a Mom gets mad...
I simply remember my fluffy Sponge Ball
And then I don't feeeeel sooo baaaaad!"

Okay, yes, if Little Jimmy wings this across the room and it comes into contact with your 14th century Ming Vase, it's probably going down. BUT, when Little Jimmy wings it at Little Susie's head, Little Susie will probably laugh and return the serve rather than have to be rushed to the Emergency Room for stitches. Any day without stitches is a good day!

This is fun, easy project. Toddlers will need a fair amount of help, bigger kids can probably do it almost on their own. You'll need 3 POLYESTER sponges, like the yellow ones at the right. NOT cellulose, like the really porous little square ones. And definitely not the kind with a scrubber on one side! Yikes! ;) Okay, three sponges, a good cutting scissors, and a zip tie. Do yourself a favor, get a 14" zip tie or even longer. If the zip tie is too short, you'll just end up wrestling with the sponges later and be a hot, sweaty, disgusting, cranky mess. Ask me how I know.

The very first thing you want to do is rinse the sponges and let them dry completely. They can sometimes smell a little funny coming right out of their plastic packaging, but a good drench-and-dry takes care of that.

Next, cut one of your sponges, the long way, into 3 strips of approximately even widths. I'm not a stickler for even-ness (as you can see) 'cuz, ultimately, this ball ain't about bein' pretty. Plus, it's kind of inherently pretty when you're done, you'll see. Cut all three sponges in this way.

Next, take all nine sponge strips and bundle them together. Don't worry about neatness or which edges are where, or how the pieces are facing... The more randomly bundled, the better. Just make sure that they're even at the tops at bottom.

After you've bundled them together, take one of your zip ties and wrap it around the middle of the bundle. Insert the pointed end through the hole in the other end and pull, just a little, just enough to hold the bundle together. Take a second to adjust any aponge strips that have slipped too far up or down. When you've got them where you want them, PULL HARD. Pull the zip tie as tight as you possibly can, until it can't get any tighter. Spread the "arms" of the ball so you can get in nice and close to the zip tie "knot" and snip off the excess of the zip tie.

Voila!! Your completed Sponge Ball. Big ones are super fun outdoors, medium sized and little ones are great for inside play spaces and bath time. Just a note: If you do decide to play with them in water, know that they won't float (obviously, they're sponges) and that it will take the very middle under the zip tie forever to dry, so I tend to snip them apart after water play, lay out the seperate pieces to dry, and put it back together with a new zip tie when it's ready.

Have fun!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

There Is No Shame In Buying A Kit

Yes! Embrace your inner laziness! No, not really. You know me, I'm a "get outta yer seat ya bum" kind of girl, but we're busy, right?! Cut yourself some slack when you can.

So, yes, you -can- do something creative, entertain the kids, and not spend all day up to your elbows in plaster of Paris to do it (although we will be doing that later when we make a -killer- volcano, so stay tuned).

The picture you see here is the birdhouse Tiny Dictator and Daddy and I all made a couple of months ago on a long, rainy day when we were just waiting for Spring to come. It's a kit by Melissa & Doug ( and is quite simple to put together. As you might see if you follow the link, ours does not look like the commercial picture. Turns out, those tiny little paint tubs they give you have enough pigment to paint the whole house. And, since TD decreed spring was coming and the leaves should be green, we used the rest of the paint to give the rest of the house some really bright coloring. I did cheat by letting TD use one of my paint brushes since the little one included was a bit slow for use on the walls and roof.

The pieces are pre-cut, you just screw them together and paint away. I would say ultimately, that the use of a screw-driver and paintbrush are really the keys to making this a really fun project for your kids. First, don't even let them see the picture on the box; throw it out, show them the paints, get extra paints if you want, let them decide how it should be painted. Second, let them wield the screw-driver. Help if they need, but the sense of satisfaction TD got out of doing it (almost) completely by himself was amazing.

The dowel was also my own addition, but only after TD expressed some concern as to where the birds would land to get in. 'Nuff said, I procured a dowel. Hey, the Master Artist had a good point, and it was -his- project, after all.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Adventure Book

In my on-going effort to find ways to help TD burn off some energy (although, truly, a giant gerbil wheel might not even be enough), he and I started going on "adventures". We've always called every outing that, but these are special. On these, we take (dramatic music) the camera.

We go someplace cool, usually looking for something specific. When we're out looking, we're Adventurers and Explorers. Most recently we went hiking on some local trails looking for bugs. This gave TD some much needed practice in both walking slowly (for once in his young life) and being quiet (proof there are miracles). When he would spot a bug, he'd point to it, and I would crouch down and line up the shot. He dictates when I push the button, when it's a good picture.

When we get home, we upload his pictures to the Walgreens web site, mostly cuz I love that we can choose to have them printed at the one closest to us, they email me when they're done a mere two hours later, and we go pick them up. Ie: no shipping! Yay!

Then, we paste the pictures in his Adventure Book. He gets to use the glue stick -and- place the photos and pat them til they stick.

No, it's not the prettiest job, but it's all his and he's very proud of it.

So, for this very simple project, you really only need 3 things: A book to use for adventure pictures, a camera, and an enthusiastic child...take mine! JK.

Don't get hung up on the "adventure" part; you can make -anything- an adventure, even just touring around the basement looking for cracks in the walls or flowers and bugs in the back yard. One of our upcoming adventures involves sandcastles in the sandbox outback.

What really matters is the time you're spending with your kid, the fact that you are practicing relaxing and stepping back and letting them be in charge, the joy and pride you'll see in them as they find what they're looking for, take the photos, choose which pictures to paste, and put the adventure book together like a big kid, like Mom or Dad.

Bonus time: Anything we can't identify, we plug a description into The Oracle (Google) and search around til we find it. This is when we're Scientists and Researchers. He does like all the pics to have complete captions. And, it's another chance or him to practice being patient and thorough, so crucial for the juggernaut child.

Most of all, have a good time!

Ooh, and pack snacks for every adventure; nothing's fun if you're cranky. ;)

Any One Can Do It

So, anyone who knows me can tell you that I like to make stuff with my hands. My best medium is paper (see my Etsy site! ), but I dabble in sewing and beading and all sorts of stuff.

What it really comes down to is that old adage by Plato, I think, that goes "Necessity is the mother of invention". That's kind of how I end up making stuff. I am, among other things, a dedicated Tree Hugger, so when the very idea of paper napkins and land fills became overwhelming, I took a bunch of scrap material and made cloth napkins. They're cheap, easy, and reusable, and yes, anyone can do it. When TD (Tiny Dictator, my son) was chucking a softball around and I feared for the safety of the dogs, we made a sponge ball that is bright and colorful and totally harmless -when- his spectacular aim lands it directly on Daddy's head.

That's what this blog is all about. The stuff I make to sell on Etsy is art. It's still useful, but it's a little more complicated and it's meant to be more of a gift or showpiece. This blog will discuss all the other crafting, the every day stuff that is functional and useful and cute, and can enhance the way you live and the way your kids spend their time. I'm -big- on crafting with the Tiny Dictator, showing him how we can do it ourselves and have a good time and be creative in a million little ways.

To that end, the next post will show you TD's "Adventure Book". It's an incredibly simple "scrap book" that a four-year-old can handle, and has brought both of us literally hours of joy. You're gonna love it, I swear.

Thanks for stopping by! Check in often. :)