Home-made Finger Paint

I’ve made my own playdough before and it is a really easy project. But finger paint seemed so much more difficult! I don’t know why. If you have the patience to stand over a stove for 15-20 minutes stirring, then you can make the stuff. It’s just about time and having corn starch in the cupboard. Sheesh.

Three recipes can be found here. I used the first one, which was basically: combine 1/2 cup cornstarch, 2 cups water, 1/2 tsp salt and 2 tbsp sugar in a pan and stir over medium-low heat for about 15-20 minutes, until it becomes a thick, almost gelatinous substance. Let it cool completely, then divide into jars and add food coloring. We made three colors using 15 drops of yellow, 15 of red, and 10 of blue.

Then we took it outside along with a bunch of brushes and a big piece of cardboard (white on one side!) and tried it out. It was a huge hit! Bonus: it washes right off and seems to clean easily from clothing, too.

Flower Hair Clip Giveaway

I’ve never done a blog giveaway before (I’ve never had a reason to), but I’ve been making so many of these clips in between dissertation edits and starting a new professional blog (more on that later – it’s not ready for public scrutiny yet!), that these things are starting to pile up. They really don’t take very long at all to make, but if you’re not into figuring it out, here’s your chance to have one anyway!

I’m going to give a bunch of these away, one larger clip or 2 smaller clips each to three different commenters. Just comment on this post by midnight Eastern Time, Friday, June 18 and tell me which one(s) you like best, and to what fun summer activity it/they will be worn. If the flowery frufru isn’t your thing, think about a young girl you know who might have fun with one of these. The giveaway is open to anyone, anywhere (that means international commenters, too!), so why not? If more than one winner chooses the same clip design, I’ll just make a duplicate. I have piles of these fabrics and a jar full of buttons. Also, feel free to let me know if there are different color/fabric/button combinations that you’d rather see.

I don’t think I’ll have the time to open up an etsy shop anytime soon, but I am curious to know which ones people like, for hand-made holiday gifts and the like. The ones with two fabrics measure about 8cm wide, and the smaller, single-fabric ones are around 5cm. I may add a bunch more after this weekend, so I’ll verify with the winners which one(s) they prefer, in case they change their minds if the options expand. In the mean time, feel free to comment away!

#1: A Little Bit Country

#2: La Vie en Rose

#3: Deauville

#4: La Vie en Rose Encore

#5: Carnival

#6: Pinks and Purples

#7: Vintage Floral

#8: Belle ?poque

#9: Petite Fraise

#10: Prairie

DIY Yo-yo Flower Hair Clips

Sometimes I dream of making a whole blanket out of fabric yo-yos. The technique is so quick and easy and it can make even old scraps of cothing look cute and cheerful. The reality is that it would take hundreds of yo-yos to make such a thing, and knowing myself, I’d loseWeight Exercise steam after barely finishing a quarter of them.

These flower clips are a great way to use yo-yos with almost instant gratification. You can make them out of any fabric you can hand-sew a needle through, and it’s a great way to use up scraps and random buttons you have laying around.

The variations are endless: you can layer several yo-yos of varying sizes, or just keep it simple and use only one. Instead of a clip, they could be made into pins or attached to headbands or off-center on the neckline of a boring blouse. I think they would be great gifts for a young girl, especially in the summer.

I’ve photographed the process and tried to create an easy explanation of how to make these. Let me know if you need any further clarification, and do share if you’ve tried it yourself!

DIY Yo-yo Flower Hair Clips

Step 1: Cut out your circles. You’ll need two different sizes for this version. I used a CD and the lid of a food container. I cut out a bunch of each size and play around with the fabric combinations once I have several.

Step 2: Make your yo-yos. Heather Bailey has an excellent tutorial for this.

Psst: you don’t even need to iron the fabric first!


Tie a knot to secure shut.

Step 3: Repeat to create a smaller yo-yo. When you pull the smaller one tight, make a knot but do not cut the thread. Using the thread, attach a button to the center of the yo-yo. I used this little strawberry one, which makes it look more sweet and child-like. A much larger button has a more funky effect. After attaching the button, make a knot in the back of the yo-yo, but still do not cut the thread.

Step 4: Attach the smaller yo-yo to the larger one by sewing into the middle of the larger yo-yo.

You now have two needles and to threads coming out of the back of the larger yo-yo.

Step 5: Tie the two threads together several times to secure. Cut one of the threads now (I did this a little out of order in the photos, which is why the second thread still appears in the 2 following photos.)

Step 6: Take a clip and lay it on top of the back of the yo-yo.

Step 6: Attach the clip to the yo-yo in three places on the clip, beginning in the middle. Cut the thread after securing each spot and re-knot it to begin the next. Technique:

First stick the needle into the yo-yo, under the bottom of the clip. Stick it back out just below the top part of the clip (photo above). Pull tight.

Now stick the needle into the top of the top part of the clip and stick it out on the top border of the bottom part of the clip (photo above).

Repeat until you’ve secured both the top and the bottom about three times.

Voila! Wear in a variety of ways, to accent a messy bun (like the photo at the beginning of this post), or just clip to one side to keep whispy hair out of your eyes. You can’t go wrong and you’ll feel instantly accessorized.

Old-School Embroidery Take II

When we lived in Paris I picked up a few vintage linen dishcloths at a flea market. What was unusual about them was that they had never been embroidered, so I did some internet research and created my own simple monogram to match the classically simple red-stripe design. Check out that project here.

Embroidered dish cloths are old school, literally. In the time period I study (late nineteenth-century France) girls learned how to embroider, knit, and sew in school. They also learned basic reading, writing, and math skills, but until the twentieth century the curriculum for girls and that for boys were drastically different. Not cool. What would be cool is if everyone learned needlework skills and science. Can’t we all benefit from using both sides of our brains?  This fall I’m giving a paper on one woman’s interesting educational theory for girls during this period. Maybe I’ll try to justify spending more time crafting as part of my “research.”

But back to the dish cloths: When it came time to celebrate my soon-to-be sister-in-law, Kendra, I thought I’d give her a French monogrammed dish cloth as a gift for the occasion of her bridal shower.

Since working on that first project I’ve discovered a fabulous site with vintage embroidery patterns that you can find here. I browsed around and came across a script alphabet that I think I prefer to the one I used on my own dish cloth.

Check it out here. See anything missing above? No W – this is actually quite common in French patterns (words that use W’s are only recent additions to French). I suppose you could just put two V’s together… Taking a look again, there isn’t a separate I or J, either. I guess you would use them interchangeably? Luckily I only needed the letters K and B this time.

After downloading the above file, I used the screen capture function on my computer to “cut” the letters I needed and then lined them up in Preview to create my custom cross-stitch pattern.

I then embroidered the initials onto the dish cloth, not worrying too much about finding exact squares, although it was fairly easy to do so on the thick linen.

Voilà. A little touch of everyday French elegance.

New Bedroom Hideout: Kura Bed Into Fort

Jax got a new bed last weekend and after a quick sewing project, it is now also a secret hide-out!


Bed: IKEA Kura
We weren’t fans of the blue, so we built it with the white side of the boards showing.

Fabric: IKEA Vitaminer Rand, 100% cotton

Curtains are attached to the bed with Velcro Décor Tape

Basic Construction:

1. First I hemmed the bottom of the entire piece of fabric I used. This helps insure that the stripes will line up, since the bottom seam will be identical on all curtains made from the fabric piece. Next, I held the fabric up to the bed and decided where I’d like it to hang, and marked what would be the top of the fort curtains. Adding 2 inches for the top seam allowance, I cut the whole strip of the fabric so it was even in height.

2. I measured the length of the bed (75 inches), divided by 2 (37.5 inches) and added a 1/2-inch seam allowance for each side, which meant I needed two panels 38.5 inches wide. I measured and cut two such panels from my hemmed piece and sewed the side seams. Ironing before pinning and sewing makes this process go smoothly.

3. I sewed a 1-inch seam into the top of the piece (the red band in the photo below) and then pinned a strip of velcro (the soft side) along the entire top seam on the right side of the curtain. I sewed the Velcro to the fabric along each edge of the Velcro, including vertically at the ends (picture one big, long, rectangular seam on top of the Velcro).

4. After wiping down the wood, I attached the self-adhesive side of the Velcro in a strip onto the inside of the bed frame.

5. Voilà, the two curtains attached to the bed using the Velcro strips. I somehow ended up a couple inches short (I say 1/2-inch seam allowances and then don’t actually measure) but I find it doesn’t matter at all. You can play around with the curtain placement and keep them open by stuffing the corners into a space you make with a finger in the Velcro (my method) or by wrapping it around the top frame a few times (which looks more like a valance).

In action!

6. Finally, I feel compelled to note that the top of the bed is completely open and we remove the curtains entirely at bedtime. Jax is a pretty calm sleeper, but you never know if there could be some sort of entanglement risk at just 19 months…

The beauty of this project is that it is inexpensive, easy, quick, and open to interpretation. You could add appliqué elements to make it look like a castle or a fruit stand, change striped curtains for starry blue ones, or get the child involved in making it into any kind of structure he imagines. My sister even had the idea of suspending several yards of fabric from the ceiling and around a hoola hoop, to make it into a circus tent. As time goes on, we are sure to play around with some other ideas for Jax’s bed. In the mean time, we’ll be playing in our new striped fort.

Sheep to Shawl Festival

Yesterday Jax and I went with friends Amanda and baby Grace to the annual Sheep to Shawl festival in Sleepy Hollow. It’s an event held at Philipsburg Manor, a 17th-century Dutch farm which now serves as a living museum, with a working mill, cows and sheep, and costumed tour guides who are actually really quite fun to speak with.

The first stop was the all-important sheering of the sheep demonstration. The 17th-century trimming scissors made us a little nervous, but this woolly sheep got his winter coat removed without any harm.

The last time we went to Philipsburg Manor the cows were all inside, so it was fun to see them grazing in the field.

The sheep herding demonstration was one of the most exciting for Jax.

“Dog. Doooooog.”

Next up was spinning: I learned in chatting with this guide that we’d only see knitting and weaving in the 17th century, as crochet hadn’t been invented yet: Crochet arrived in the States in the mid-19th-century and it had only been developed in late-18th-century France.

The dying of the wool was done in boiling water over this open flame.

On the left, onion skins are dying the wool a bright yellow. On the right is a deep red produced by tree bark.

We took a quick stop into the mill.

Weaving demonstration

The guests of honor! Jax was so excited to look into the barn and see these guys. He kept shouting “baaaa!”

Then one sheep stuck his head out and yelled “baaa!” back. I don’t know if Jax ever thought that would be coming.

A tour of the stable

The walk back

Poisson d’avril!

I love that in France the fish is the symbol of April Fool’s day. Back in high school my French teacher went all out (as she did every day, for that matter), sneakily taping a paper fish to someone’s back and seeing if they caught it before class was over. During our time living in France, I noticed that a lot of the Easter/spring candies were in the shape of fish in addition to eggs and bells. I wonder if the symbols all became associated with Easter, or if the fish takes on new meaning for the Christian holiday (fish on Friday during Lent perhaps?). In any case, I have fully embraced the fish as our springtime emblem.

With fusible interfacing and an iron, it took me about 5 minutes to enbellish this shirt last night. I was going to zigzag stitch around the borders of each fish, but I’ve got job applications to write and a chapter to finish, so this will do for now!

Pause for quick photo…and…he’s off!

Because Jax loves fish and all things water, I thought I’d perfect my recycled crayons method using an ice cube mold we picked up at IKEA. Now, the tray said “for water only” but I thought it would still work well for crayon melting since the oven is only set to “warm” for this project. I had tried this with a heart mold for Valentine’s day but neglected to grease the mold first, so I thought that would solve my problems this time.

The greased mold with broken crayon bits

After 10 minutes, they started to melt, but I soon noticed the bowing of the tray was going to pose a problem…

Some spillage, but using the potholders to weigh down the sides, I straightened out the mold and let the crayons cool and harden this way.

And then the removal: disaster as I carefully popped the fish out. Only two fish survived with tails (out of twelve).

The mold didn’t fare any better with the greasing, either. Oh well. We can always remelt and try again with a different mold. In the mean time, we still have some fun multi-colored ovals to color with!

Happy April Fool’s Day!

Scrappy Flower Tag Toy

Here’s a new take on the tag toys I’ve been churning out: a sensory experience in the form of a patchwork flower.

I guarantee you have enough stuff laying around to make one of these: The petals are made out of scraps from other projects and old clothes. Even if you don’t have many scraps on hand, you could use a felted wool sweater, an outmoded pair of corduroy pants, a torn camisole, a stained tea towel, a pillowcase who’s lost his match… you get the idea.

You just cut out the petals free-form and sew as you would a pillow, with right sides together (I didn’t even pin anything). Turn inside out, sew once on the outside to close the hole, and attach to two circular pieces (made in the same way as the petals) with a big round of stitches on top. I made the circular pieces in the same way as a tag toy, attaching the ribbon pieces so that they come out of the seam in the circle.

The coolest innovation for this project was the idea of using not only different textures of fabric, but filling them with different materials as well. Two of the petals are filled with those clear window plastic things you get on envelopes from your telephone/cable/electric bills. Just cut out the middle of the “window” and stuff inside a petal or two. It gives the petal that crunchy sound many baby toys have. I also made a couple of them extra thick with fleece.

I made sure each side had a variety of colors, too. This is side one, with a red houndstooth fleece center, and that pink petal is satin.

Side two has a center cut from a pair of jeans I don’t wear anymore. I used a sewing machine to keep it all together, and didn’t mind the scrappy look of sewing on top. If you want to have a more neat finished product, embroider all the parts together with pretty thread and a more steady hand.

It’s a floppy toy, just like the tag blankets, but I could see doing a stuffed version as well, maybe with a stuffed center or a few stuffed petals, too. It was fun just experimenting with it all and not worrying too much about matching things perfectly or lining it all up symmetrically.

Yesterday I sent this off to my sister Monica, who is due with my nephew tomorrow. Hope he’ll come out soon to start exploring the many colors and textures of the world outside the womb!

Recent Projects

The biggest accomplishment of the past weeks has been finishing the draft of my third chapter (only one more to go!), but I also found some time for a couple of craft breaks.

Remember that vintage sweater I framed last year? Since Jax has actually been wearing the thing, I thought it was time for a nursery decor overhaul. I have this lovely quilted doll blanket my Aunt Marge Ann made for me when I was little, and I’ve finally found the perfect use for it:

The new and improved reading corner: framed doll blanket hanging over the dog-bed-turned cozy corner. The alligator pillow is a TJ Maxx find (and Jax fell in love with the animal in Florida ?? “adiddle” he calls them), and the green velvet one is something I made and thought would add interesting texture. The big white pillow is a fuzzy quilted floor pillow.

I then took an idea from Purl Soho that I’ve been harboring for over two years and added some colorful interest to another blank wall:

Once I blogged about the DIY ribbon tag toys I was making, my friend Cecilia requested a couple – one for herself and one for a friend:

{That little donkey print gets around!}

Here are some in-progress pictures:

I also finished a knit bonnet ?? my first time trying this pattern and this yarn (big fan of both) ?? and sent it off to baby Tegan out in California.

Here’s a tip for gifting your yarn work: make a tag the same size as the yarn label and tie them together to the gift. That way, all the info about material content and washing instructions is all there.

Finally, for a totally random travel idea from the daughter of two scientists, you can make toddler snack packs with little test tubes. {Don’t worry, these were never used in any experiments!} My mom gave me a ton of these to organize craft supplies, but they worked wonders during our trip: not only are you only dealing with one serving of snacks at a time, but the twist-off cap can become an intriguing toy for the toddler.

O’s cereal, Cheddar crackers, and Dried Cranberries, ready for take-off

Similarly, if you need special laundry detergent on the go (if you are using cloth diapers or if your tot has sensitive skin), the tubes work well for that, too:

Just don’t try to get these guys through security…Who knows what they’ll think.

And voilà, my list of recent crafty randomness.