Friday, November 30, 2012

Gifts for Kids: Cozy Christmas Cottage

Every kid likes to have a hide out, a special space. Growing up we had an amazing playhouse in our backyard built by my Grandpa and Dad. We aren't ready to make anything quite that elaborate for our Thing One & Thing Two, but I still wanted them to have a little play house. I considered sewing one, like this, but I was pretty sure it would mean a lot of one on one time with the sewing machine. If you sew you may sympathize with my predicament: sewing projects = me squirreled away in my room, alone away from everyone and the TV. Sometimes I'm fine with that, but around the holidays we like to work on projects while we watch Christmas movies, or eat cookies or whatever : ) So I decided on this cardboard play house. I didn't want to get it, let Thing One scribble on it twice and throw it away, no, I saw potential in this giant coloring box. So I roped my husband into the project and we went to work.

A few Christmas movies later here it is. We added the snow (from a big box of fiberfill I bought for all my little stuffed toy projects) just to give it to him Christmas morning, because everyone loves a white Christmas. Sorry all the pictures are a little dark, a giant project like this isn't easy to throw under the bed so we only got to work on it at night. 

The roof is covered with brown burlap. It gives it a great texture. The door and window trims are painted with red craft paint. We added two little wooden knobs to either side of the front door, because it's so hard to open the door without a knob! The light, bush and some of the bricks were colored with crayon. My husband is a wizard with crayons. The light really looks like it glowing. Pretty sweet shading (he's so Napoleon Dynamite!).

For more texture and to make it feel more real, we bought some cheap greenery at Hobby Lobby (their silk flowers go 50% off all the time). We hot glued the ivy vines on top of the drawn ones (after we colored them green). I cut all the leaves off some other stems and hot glued them to the tree, also covering the trunk with  brown burlap. We glued flowers in the window box, and cut out some felt flowers for the bottom.

Like I said, some of the bricks we just colored different shades of grey, but for the rest we painted some grey or cut out light and dark grey felt bricks and hot glued them on.  To keep the rest of the house from looking so pure white we dabbed on grey craft paint with a crumpled paper towel. I think this is called stippling?  We did it very loosely just to take away the stark white. Here's the other side, with another tree. I hung some little ornaments in this one.

We got the house on sale, and all the materials on sale, or we had them on hand, so it was a pretty cheap project. When making things I know they will outgrow within a few years I don't like a huge investment. Sure we invested some time, but it was fun doing it together; our secret Santa project.  The impact of seeing a little Christmas cottage in the living room on Christmas morning is pretty fun, and totally made it worth it.

We did this house two years ago and it's still holding up fine in our basement. The boys played in it yesterday. There are all kinds of projects like this now. Pirate ships, castles, trains. You can have a lot of fun with this big surprise. I hope you've found a new idea or two during kids gift week. Next week I'll be doing handmade stocking stuffer ideas.

Have a wonderful weekend!
- Haley

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Gifts for Kids: Life-size Angry Birds

I feel like this idea is cheating a little bit, since I bought the plush animals, but it's partly homemade so we're going with it. Last year Thing One was crazy about the Angry Birds Game on Daddy's iphone so I wanted to get him his own Angry Birds game, but there wasn't as big a selection of Angry Birds stuff as there is this year, and I couldn't find what I wanted. Then I saw these birds and realized it would be awesome to make our own life size version of the game.

These stuffed birds and pigs make noise when you press their heads and were listed at something like $20 each, but being the sale and coupon hound that I am I got them (at three different stores) for each around $5 or less. We already had some of these cardboard blocks, but we wanted to create some that looked like the wood beams in the game, so we used cardboard boxes, cut, taped and with a little wood grain drawn on by my artistic husband. If you don't want to cheat like me and buy the animals, you can make your own. Obsessively Stitching has an amazing tutorial on how to make your own set of birds and pigs. So you can truly make this a totally handmade gift if you are patient enough to sew them all.

Life-size games are so much more fun than a board game, especially for our little guys. There are no small pieces to lose or have little brother choke on. There are endless "set ups" or "levels" the kids can design and practicing tossing the birds at a target is good hand eye coordination. Running back and forth between the set up and the toss line is at least some movement, which is pretty exciting during cabin fever season.

Thing One's reaction when he opened his big gift from us was just what we were hoping for. He loved it. And played with it for months. I just recently brought it back up from the basement, and the fun has not diminished at all. Now Thing Two is big enough to get in on the action, and we will probably be playing lots of rounds of real Angry Birds again.

I'm hoping to share one more kids idea tomorrow. Hope you had a good week!

Gifts for Kids: Car Caddy

I love toys that travel well, so a couple years ago when I saw Jill's car caddy I knew I had to make one or two. This is one of those projects that is great to make more that one at a time because you can just do each step twice and come out with an extra at the end. Obviously, right? But when I do projects that have lots of steps I always get to end and think I'm not sure I would start that all over again. But if I make two or three at once then I already have extra, and I'm always glad. 

Jill's tutorial is pretty complete, so if I were you I'd just head over there. But I wanted to show you how mine turned out. I used some denim fabric, black strap, and felt for the truck on the outside. 

I used red corduroy on the inside, with black (or grey) and yellow felt for the road.

Perfect for crusin'.

I made one for a little friend of ours and used freezer paper and fabric paint to personalize it for him.

This car caddy and a box of Hot Wheels or Matchbox Cars is a perfect gift for your favorite boys.
Thanks for reading! 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gifts for Kids: Accessories for Furry Friends

I have two boys, and I love having boys more than I ever thought I would. That said, I'm not making any doll clothes over here which would be a pretty fun handmade gift. But just because we don't have dolls, doesn't mean they don't have friends that they would like to dress up sometimes. Take Mr. Owl here (Kohls Cares for Kids right now, by the way --$5). Given Thing Two's love of owls I had to buy him. But he looked kind of sad, really plain. 

My solution? Crochet a quick hat and scarf for him. Doesn't he look friendlier? And warmer? My sister-in-law made the hat which I am thinking she did with normal yarn and fat knitting needles to give it a very airy stretch (perfect for poking ears through). For the scarf I just crocheted two rows of double crochet about 30 inches long and added some fringe to the ends when I was done. Don't knit or crochet? No problem. Just cut a scarf from some fleece fabric and snip the edges to fringe. No need to sew, because fleece doesn't fray. This is an easy way to make matching kid/stuffed animal scarves, since you can just cut them both from the fleece.  Make sure to cut the animal scarf nice and long so you can wrap it all the way around the neck and have it hang down on both sides (like below) this will help to keep it from falling off too easily.

Stuffed friends can also benefit from hats that turned out to be too small. Face it, if you don't like trying to figure out sizing and instructions for crochet or knitting patterns (me) some of your winging-it projects are going to be the wrong size for your kids...but the right size for bear!

Last year I knit matching hats for Thing One and Thing Two. Thing One's hat still fits, but Thing Two has out grown his, so now Señor León can match his partner in crime.

I don't know any moms who enjoy the extra bundling up to go out in the winter, or any kids for that matter. But maybe it's a little more fun when a tag along stuffed animal also dons his hat and scarf to venture out to the car. Of course these we be great for dolls as well, if you happen to have any.

Thanks for reading! See you soon!
- Haley

Monday, November 26, 2012

Kids Gifts: Play Cookies & Elf Apron

Hello! Did everyone have a great Thanksgiving? It was so nice to have a few days of family time. Today we start Gifts for Kids! It's been a while since I posted any felt food, so I thought we'd start there. It's a christmas cookies baking and decorating set. 

The first thing I made for this set was a little christmas apron. Christmas is a time of year where Thing One helps in the kitchen a lot. I thought an elf apron would be perfect. This one is a slight variation from the Kids apron I made before but it's still made from a vinyl table cloth. Now for an exciting announcement: I have finally uploaded my kids apron pattern for you! You can find the free pattern here and find the instruction here

This apron was traced from another we had so it has a more rounded shape. Because of that, I decided to finish the edges with bias tape. If you are using the pattern you can just fold and sew the edges as directed or (if you have more time on your hands) you can try the bias tape for a little more finished look.

Here's the finished apron. I wish I would have done the D-rings for the neck strap like I did on the other one, but this was actually my first kid apron attempt, so each one has improved a little more since this first one.

What do you think? Does this make a great apron for little elf helpers or what?

Now on to the play cookies. To make the dough I used two sheets of tan felt which you can find in craft stores or sometimes even Walmart. I trimmed the edges to make a more blobby shape and sewed all the way around, about 1/8 inch from the edge. Next I traced the cookie cutter I wanted to include a few times on the dough.  Space them out pretty well. Then sew along your traced lines. Cut out the shapes just inside your sewn lines. Sew the two cut out pieces together.

Then your inner cut outs should look like this. I tried different methods of sewing the cookies: by hand with a blanket stitch and machine zigzag. I finally decided on machine straight stitch as seen on the right below. It looks cleanest I think. Then you can cut our some frosting for kiddos to add after their cookies are "baked." If you want frosting to be permanent sew it on to the top cut-out layer before sewing the two layers together.

I bought the little pan at the dollar store and these cute rolling pins are available in the wood aisle at Hobby Lobby.

You can package up the cookie set in a Christmas tin or add a few more felt foods and make it a full set of cooking fun. This set had bacon and eggs, bow tie pasta and sauce and cookies and frosting.

Now your little elves can bake away with no worry of burnt cookies or someone eating too much raw cookie dough. : )

Thanks for reading. See you soon for more kids gifts!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Grown Up Gifts: Sugar Scrubs

Today's grown up gift is a little trip to the spa, or at least it will feel like one. This sugar scrub leaves hands and feet super soft and is made out of ingredients you probably already have. It makes a great gift because it's one-size-fits-all. You can try a variety of scents; today I'll share my favorite; modified from a recipe book I purchased. 

Before you get started mixing, you want to round up your containers. Small jars work well. I try to save mine when I use something up, like jam or a specialty mustard or something. Remove the label, send through the dishwasher, and take off any sticky residue with some Goo Gone. You don't want your jars to be too big, or it will take an entire batch for one jar, and the recipient may have a hard time using it up before it starts to crystalize. The larger size baby food jars make a perfect stocking stuffer. I also like the mini mason jars they have now. 

I did use my Silhouette to cut out vinyl letters to make labels that said "Sugar Scrub" on each jar. I used the inner letters on some, and the outer shell on others, so I didn't waste any vinyl, and each label took care of two jars. I attached a bamboo spoon to each, but I will confess that the scrub does get a little hard after a while, and the bamboo spoons didn't cut it, so if you choose to include a spoon you might want it to be of the metal variety.

The toppers were just tissue paper cut into a circle about twice the size of the lid and tied on with jute or raffia.

Ok how about a recipe?

Peppermint Snow Scrub

1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup mineral or baby oil 
2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1 tsp. peppermint extract

Mix all ingredients well. Spoon into jars and seal. To use: massage a tablespoon of scrub over hands or feet for one minute. Rinse and pat dry. Massage any residual oil into hands to seal in moisture. Hands will be super soft!
If you want to change the scent a little you can get lavender scented baby oil, and come out with lavender/peppermint. I did this by accident, but was pleasantly surprised with the result. If you want just peppermint be sure your mineral or baby oil is unscented. I also love the rosemary/mint combo, for this use 1 tsp spearmint extract (not peppermint!) and a few drops of rosemary essential oil. You can really be creative and come up with your favorite scents. 

Other scents I made as gifts were Mexican Hot Chocolate (chocolate cinnamon) and Pumpkin Pie. I purchased an ebook of 24 sugar scrub recipes from Erin at In Between Laundry. You can go here to purchase her book of recipes.

Finally, I tried something new with this project: glass etching! As long as I was cutting vinyl labels I thought I would give it a try. You just put the vinyl stencil on and carefully paint the etching cream over the letters. You leave it on for a few minutes and then rinse it off. Ta da! Jars that say Sugar Scrub. Kind of fun.
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! 
Thanks for coming to grown up gifts week. 
Next up will be handmade gifts for kids. See you then!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Grown Up Gifts: Scarves

I like to crochet because it's fast and easy. I've made lots of scarves and hats, and a few baby blankets, but I only know a handful of stitches. Needless to say, many of you can probably crochet circles around me, but if not I hope that this post will encourage beginners (or lazy needleworkers like me). Remember the Red Scarf Project? The four scarves I made were all slightly different styles, but all made using only two or three basic stitches (chain stitch, single and double crochet). Below you can find a quick run down of how I made each one. I've also included a scarf you can make even without a crochet hook. Let's start with the crocheted scarves.

1. For a basic scarf I use a standard weight yarn (something like Vanna's Choice) and an H or I crochet hook. I chain stitch 12 and then turn and start a double stitch 2 chains from the end. I do 10 double crochet stitches to the end of the row,  then chain stitch 2, turn and double crochet 10 to complete the second row. Continue this way (double 10, then chain 2 at the end of each row) until the scarf is as long as you want it to be. Now to dress it up...

2. For this scarf I crocheted a scarf as described above, then after I was done I did a single stitch all the way around the edge to give it the chocolate brown border. It's a little tricky crocheting perpendicular to your rows, but if I can wing it anyone can : ) I love the clean edges and the pop of color.

3. Okay now you're ready to change it up a little bit. I love this scarf because it looks kind of fancy, but it's still the same two stitches. To start:
(1.) chain 12, turn and start your double crochet row two from the end. Double crochet 10 (just like you did for the first two scarves above). Here's where it's different though.

(2.) At the end of each row chain 5 instead of just 2.

(3.) Then turn, double crochet 10 for the second row, and chain 5 at the end of the row. Continue until your scarf is as long as you want it to be.

4. The last scarf I crocheted I wanted to try something new and stretch myself a little. I was partly successful. It did come out with a different look, but I feel like I was cheating, because even though it's called a fan stitch it's really just carefully placed double crochet stitches.
(1.) chain 17, turn and double crochet 2 chains from the end. Do another double crochet in the exact same spot, then skip 2 chains and double crochet in the third. Do three double crochet stitches in this same chain, then skip two. continue this pattern to the end of the row, chain 2 before turning to start row 2.

(2) Double crochet in the very first stitch, then skip 2 stitches and do three double crochets in the third. So basically you are just doing three stitches in one hole, then skipping a stitch on either side to make up for it, leaving two stitches in between each set of three.

(3) So all rows after the first row should look like this: chain 2 (from the precious row), double crochet in the first stitch, skip 2, double crochet 3 in the next stitch, skip 2, double crochet 3 in the next stitch, skip 2, double crochet 3 in the next stitch, skip 2, double crochet 3 in the next stitch, skip 2, double crochet 2 in the last stitch.

4. You should be able to see your pattern staying nice and even after just a few rows. Be careful to always start in the very first stitch of the row, and always chain 2 at the end of each row before starting the next one. I think these are the two most common mistakes crocheters make, causing their work to shrink or get wider. Isn't this a pretty pattern?

Finally, the no-sew, no-crochet scarf. This scarf is simply made by tying knots in a specific pattern. You need to use a very thick yarn for this, the thicker the better. I originally saw this in Martha Stewart Living.  You can find their instructions here. But there's not a lot of pictures, so if you are a visual learner like me here's a few more photos to hopefully help you out. It's really helpful to tape the ends of your yarn down really well (try painters tape, or masking tape). The tricky part to this scarf is trying to keep the knots evenly spaced. It is a great, super fast project. This one is good for younger crafters too. My cousin made a bunch of these for her friends one Christmas when she was in high school. Easy and cheap, but still cute. 

So there you have it; five scarves you can make while you watch Christmas movies. Kind of makes you re-think your Black Friday plans now that yarn is at the top of your list, huh?

Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Grown Up Gifts: Heat Pack

Every year around this time all the little carts get set up in the mall. You know, the ones wanting to sell you ring cleaner or a hermit crab, or a remote control helicopter? There is always a cart selling microwavable heat/cold packs. I love these and thought they would make a great gift for a lot of my friends and family, but at $35 a piece I knew that would add up too quickly for me. So I did a little research and drew my own pattern (using a heat pack that we had), mixed my own filling and was able to make six of these comforting packs for less than it would have cost me for one. Today I'm sharing the tutorial and the free pattern so you too can create a quality comforting gift for a friend or loved one (or yourself).  

First go here to download and print the pattern. I like to fold the fabric right sides together to cut, so that I can just pin and start sewing. 

Sew all the way around with a 1/2 inch seam, leaving one of the ends open to turn and fill. Constant use of these heat packs has taught me that it is a good idea to sew the inside curve twice. Just go back over it about 1/8 -1/4 inch from your first stitching line. (The rice is heavy and will create a lot of strain on this portion as it hangs over your neck.) Next turn the fabric right side out and press out the seams. Then sew all the dividing lines. These help the rice stay somewhat evenly distributed in the pack. I filled part of the pack here so you can see the dividers. Be sure to back stitch at the start and stop of each of these lines with several stitches because again the rice will create a lot of strain on them.  

Once the pack and dividers are sewn you are ready for your rice filling. Now you have to decide what scents you want to use. Since this fabric already had a spice theme I decided to make this one spice scented. You can find essential oils lots of different places. I usually get mine at Hobby Lobby. You can find them with their soap and candle making supplies. Don't forget your 40% off coupon. For the spice scented pack I used cinnamon spice oil, plus some ground ginger and cloves. I had read that sometimes when people add things like dry herbs/spices it can cause the pack to smolder with repeated heating, so I try to steer clear of anything but rice as a filler. I think it takes about 2 1/2 small bags of rice to fill each pack.

Here's another mix I used for a different pack: lavender/mint, one of my favorite combos. I also love rosemary/mint. When adding the scent just start by adding a little and mixing it well, trying to coat all the rice evenly. Continue adding scent and mixing until it is actually a little stronger that you would like. Remember that the scent will fade and that it will be inside of a cloth case. Once you have the scent you like get a scoop and a funnel and start filling the pack, making sure to ease the rice in between the dividers.

If you plan to make more than one or two you might just want to pick up a big bag of rice. It's a lot cheaper. I think this one was about $15 at Costco or Sams. So far I think I have made about eight packs with it and I have only used half the bag.

As you fill up the pack try to fill it evenly, but don't over fill it. You want to make sure the pack is very flexible or it will not wrap well and will create too much strain on the stitches, ripping the pack. You also don't want it too sparse or the rice will all run to the bottom. It needs to be full enough to hold itself in place. I think in general I fill it all pretty full (but not bulging) and also leave about 1 1/2 sections empty by the open end. Finally, turn the open ends under 1/2 inch and sew closed  with two layers of stitching 1/8-1/4 inch apart (as seen in the bottom left of this picture). Work the rice around to fill the last two spaces and you are done.

If you are giving as a gift make a tag with heating instructions. Microwave for 2-3 minutes. Microwave once in a while with a mug of water or tea to rehydrate the rice and keep it from getting too dry.

Enjoy and relax. See you soon for more gift ideas!

- Haley

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Grown Up Gifts: Breakfast Bar

Welcome to week one of Handmade Christmas. This week I will feature some ideas for girlfriends, sisters, neighbors--grown ups. I'm excited to share some of my projects with you. I'd also love it if you would share your great handmade gift ideas in the comments throughout this series. Everyone loves a fresh idea, so please share yours! Now on to today's gift: the instant breakfast bar.

One of my favorite people has a long commute to work and is always rushing out the door in the mornings, so last year when I was thinking of gift ideas I decided I wanted to give her something that would make her mornings easier. I came up with a breakfast bar. 

Here's what I included in the Breakfast Bar:

A reusable travel mug
Mocha cappuccino mix
Instant coffee packets
Instant oatmeal
Chocolate dipped spoons
Disposable hot cups
Disposable spoons

The idea is that all you need is a little hot water and you are good to go. The disposable cups can be used for coffee or oatmeal. I wrapped everything in coordinating scrapbook paper and raffia to tie it all together, and used paper tags to label things. I used my Silhouette for the tags, but you can just snip some out of scrapbook paper. You want to make it look like a gift set, not a tray of groceries, so color-coordinating is important. I organized them all on a tray and made a little banner to personalize it more. I like to think this gift made cold January mornings a little easier to bear. 

Do you know someone who's always running out the door without breakfast? This might be the perfect gift for them. After all, they say breakfast is the most important meal of the day!

Thanks for stopping by! See you soon with more gift ideas!
- Haley

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thanksgiving Yummies

This year for Thanksgiving I'm making a couple of new favorite foods and I thought I'd share them with you. I'm making this pumpkin pie dip as an appetizer. It goes great with apples or graham cracker sticks. I got this recipe from my friend Chelsey who adapted it quite a bit from another I had seen. I like her version, so here it is.

Pumpkin Pie Dip

2 packages of cream cheese (I always use the 1/3 less fat kind)
1 can pumpkin
2 cups powdered sugar
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice

Soften cream cheese and then mix all ingredients with a mixer until well blended. Serve with sliced apples, pears, graham cracker sticks, gingersnaps, or pretzels. 

I will also be making a crock-pot of pumpkin spice latte. I found the recipe on Pinterest from a blog called Urban Nester. You can find her recipe here.

We have so much to be grateful for. I hope that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Don't forget this week (Nov. 12-18) is the drop off time for Operation Christmas Child boxes! Click here to find your closest drop off location.

I'll see you Monday for the start of Handmade Christmas!

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