Jan 22, 2014

A Better Burp Cloth

The burp cloth - a diaper bag staple. A new parent will likely be within reach of one of these 24 hrs a day for a good 6 months. It might seem weird that one would develop strong feelings regarding the effectiveness of burp cloths, but it happens. I subconsciously ranked mine on a scale from 'just moves the mess around' to 'I love you, burp cloth'. I guess I spent a lot of time thinking about baby spit up.

For some reason, while I was pregnant I was determined to sew my own burp cloth. This didn't necessarily make sense as I had several, but I'll chalk it up to 'nesting' which is often illogical (though mention that little fact to a pregnant lady at your own risk). Anyway, I finally got around to it two weeks into my maternity leave. It was a quick project, which is a good thing because I went into labor a few hours later. Surprise! In our tiny CA house this meant that my sewing machine and supplies were in the middle of the living room when we got home from the hospital. Oops. Despite the less than ideal timing, I'm still really glad I made this burp cloth. It has turned out to be my absolute favorite and now I make them for all my pregnant friends. These and my bunny ear teethers, which works great because they use the same fabric!

So what makes this burp cloth 'better'?

This burp cloth obviously has all the basics - absorbent, soft, washable. A few bonus features in the design have me reaching for this cloth as my favorite. First, it is more narrow than a lot of burp cloths out there - particularly those made from pre fold cloth diapers. My shoulders were just not wide enough for the larger cloths to stay put without a lot of hassle. I also found the bigger cloths took up too much space in my diaper bag when a smaller cloth would do the job just fine. The elastic strap helps keep them folded up, which both keeps your diaper bag neat and keeps a 'used' cloth from getting the rest of the contents of your diaper bag gross. The elastic strap has another perk: it can be used to hang the cloth from a plastic ring, a paci clip, or even your wrist. So you can attach it to a stroller or yourself to prevent it from falling on the floor (particularly helpful on an airplane).

And while you are at it, order yourself some extra elastic and make some hair ties - you know the ones that Anthropologie sells in a 5 pack for $12 that can be made for about 50 cents. I'm just full of good DIY advice today.

Chenille, 9.5" x 17"
Flannel, 9.5" x 17"
6" length of 5/8" width Fold Over Elastic 
Sewing Machine and Thread
Point Turner

Prewash fabrics. Cut rectangles of flannel and chenille (Dimensions 9.5" x 17") and pin them right sides together. (I'm a huge fan of the Chenille which does a great job soaking up a mess, but regular terry cloth can be used as well).

Cut approximately 6" of the fold over elastic and fold it in half with the shiny sides together.

Insert the folded elastic between the flannel and chenille centered on one of the short sides of the rectangle. Place the fold of the elastic toward the inside of the burp cloth and the cut end at the outer edge. Pin in place.

After a bit of trial, and lots of error, I discovered that the stretch present in some of the flannel pieces was causing a bit of 'skewing' during sewing. To minimize the effect of the stretch, I sew around the edge of the burp cloth in a very specific order. It takes a tiny bit longer than just sewing continuously around the rectangle, but it is worth it. (1) First, using a 1/4" seam allowance, I sew across the short side of burp cloth with the pinned elastic (while sewing over the elastic, I usually go backward and forward a few times to make sure the seam is very strong). Lifting the foot, I turn the corner, and continue to sew down one long side. Backstitch and cut the thread. (2) I then reposition the needle at the original starting point, but sew down the second long side of the rectangle in the same direction as the first long side was sewn. This will allow the flannel to stretch down evenly on both sides. At the bottom of the second long side I backstitch and cut the thread.

At this point, it is important to make sure the chenille and flannel are smooth and not wrinkled (though the flannel may extend beyond the chenille end at this point). (3) With the 'shorter' fabric on top (often the chenille) and leaving a 1/4" seam allowance from the edge of the shorter fabric, sew from one corner toward the center of the remaining open side approximately 3" inches. Backstitch and cut thread. Then repeat this from the other corner toward the center. Be sure to leave approximately 3" open in the center of the short side of the rectangle. This gap will be used to turn the fabric right side out.

Use fabric scissors to clip the four corners, careful not to clip the seam. This will allow for cleaner corners. You can also trim the flannel if it stretches far beyond the chenille on any side. Now turn the burp cloth right side out and use a point turner to push the corners to a point from inside the burp cloth.

At the open section, fold the fabric in to match the seam allowance and pin closed. Top stitch approximately 1/8" around the rectangle to finish the burp cloth and close the gap. Again, you can sew back and forth where the elastic is joined to the burp cloth to reinforce.

Repeat for as many pregnant friends as you have. I, for one, currently have a lot. Good thing these are so quick!

Jan 13, 2014

A Very Hungry Caterpillar Inspired First Birthday

Confession: I have a slight obsession with buying children's books. Thankfully, my son loves reading almost as much as I do.  It would be a bit embarrassing if I had to read them by myself. It should be no surprise that the theme for my son's first birthday was based on a classic - The Very Hungry Caterpillar. With my son's second birthday around the corner, I have been fondly remembering how much fun we had at his first. 

Here's a little photo inspiration for fellow party DIYers. 

I found a free downloadable hungry caterpillar image online here and designed my own printable invitation. A hole punch down the side matches the caterpillar's trail of eaten food from the books. Delete the party details, type 'Thank You' across the top, and you have matching thank you notes as well.

I loved the idea of a tiny 'smash cake' just for the birthday boy. I had just taken my first cake decorating class so this cake is far from perfect, but I love its color and whimsy. My inspiration was the colorful polka dots from the introduction of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. To get the 'marbled' look of the dots, I hand twisted and rolled out fondant of two different shades of each color. I did not use fondant to cover the entire cake so my son would have an easier time with the 'smashing'.

The rest of the guests got green grass cupcakes and chocolate filled strawberries. Filling the strawberries instead of dipping them really helped with the mess. Thanks Pinterest:).

Apart from the caterpillars, polka dots were a primary theme through the decorations. Tablecloths, washi tape on plastic cups, paper straws, cupcake wrappers, a birthday banner...I put polka dots everywhere. 

Green leaf garlands (also caterpillar 'eaten') and wheatgrass centerpieces added the final touches to the decorations. The wheatgrass was incredibly easy, cheap, and grew in 10 days! I found wheatgrass seed packets at Whole Foods. The green leaf garlands were cut with my Silhouette Cameo

And finally, the favors. I had my heart set on giving the kids caterpillar finger puppets and there were zero good options available. With a little trial and error, I came up with a simple crochet pattern you can find in my Etsy shop. However, consider yourself warned that hand crocheting finger puppet favors can (in some circles) put you into that 'crazy mom' category. Obviously, I would think you were awesome and ask you for the pattern. Who can blame you if you get a wee bit excited for your kids first birthday? 

To wrap the favors, I found a Silhouette Cameo pattern for an apple box. I added a few holes and used the same invitation caterpillar image to make tags. 

I was so happy with the theme. Such a classic resonates with babies and adults alike, and the beautiful artwork and whimsical story offered a ton of inspiration for DIY decorations. There are so many options! I hope you found a little inspiration from our version of A Very Hungry Caterpillar First Birthday. But most importantly, enjoy celebrating your little one. 

Jan 8, 2014

Tips and Gear for Your First Half Marathon

I'm one of those crazies who actually enjoys running half marathons. Full marathons...no thank you. My crazy doesn't go that far. But half marathons are great - just long enough to feel accomplished and short enough to be fun (not to mention you will still have some free time not devoted to training). This year I put together some information for friends facing their first race. Just a few tips I found helpful when preparing for my first race. While this list is far from exhaustive, it gives you a few things to consider as you look forward to tackling your first half marathon.

The most important advice I can give on how to survive (and dominate) a half marathon is pick a training program and stick with it. There are a ton of options out there - some geared toward first timers, others more advanced. Pick one that aligns with your goals. For example, a training program for someone who is focusing only on crossing the finish line will differ from someone shooting for a PR (personal record). For my first race, I focused on running the whole way (no walking), but was unconcerned with the time. My training didn't have any speed work involved and often I didn't even time my training runs. Now that I have done a few races, I work toward time goals. You will also want to consider the race course. The last one I ran was the Nike Women's Half Marathon in San Francisco. This is by far my favorite race (who else has tuxedoed firemen handing out Tiffany necklaces at the finish line?!), but man is there a steep hill around mile 6. You will want to look at the  elevation changes of the race course (often published on the race website) to determine if you need to include any hills in your training.

If you are unsure where to start, I swear by the Hal Higdon's training programs. The 'Novice 1' plan prepared me well for all of my half marathons. The plan is 12 weeks long. I've done both the 12 week plan and a doubled 24 week plan for a bit slower mileage ramp up.

GET GOOD SHOES. This is not optional. A half marathon isn't just another jog. You are going to be racking up serious mileage during training. You need a shoe that fits well and provides the type of support your foot needs. Any running shoe store worth their salt will have an expert on staff to watch you run a few paces and give you some suggestions on footwear. And a really good running store will have a lenient return/exchange policy allowing you to try the shoes out on a few runs. The shoes will likely be a bit pricey, but it is worth every penny. You don't NEED much gear for running, but this is a must. The wrong support can cause all sorts of joint or foot problems once you start getting up in miles. Another option if you are having foot trouble - Superfeet green inserts.

A few more suggestions regarding shoes: track mileage and size up. There is often a specified mileage limit (e.g. 500 miles) determined by the manufacturer. You will want your race to fall within that range. Regarding sizing, many runners often size up a half or a full size. I typically wear a 7.5 shoe, but my running shoes are at least a size 8. The extra room allows for foot swelling. You won't notice this on short runs, but during 9 or 10 mile runs your foot will swell a bit and might cause your toes to rub if they are too small.

Clothing and Socks
When it gets closer to the race you will want to pick a 'race outfit' (including underwear and sports bra) and try it out on some long runs. This will be to make sure you don't get chafing. If you do get chafing you should try other clothing options and use Bodyglide. Not as important as the shoes, but good socks can help prevent blisters and keep your feet dry. I like Wrightsock Double Layer Socks. I have a few pair that I save for my long runs. Your running clothes will likely get stinky with so much use. The absolute best sports clothing wash I have found is Sport Suds.

If you run outdoors you will need something to help you track all that beautiful mileage you'll be racking up. The 100% free option is mapping out runs in advance with MapMyRun or Google Maps. I've done this a lot, but it doesn't allow you any flexibility. If you have Nike shoes, Nike+ is a good option. There are also apps on the iPhone/iPod though I haven't personally used these and they require you to strap your iPhone to your arm. My personal favorite is my GPS watch. I've used a few versions, but the one that wins out is the Garmin Forerunner 210. I had the Garmin Forerunner 410 (now replaced with the 610) version and it was confusing and the darn touch bezel was infuriating. The 210 version is basic, super easy, and gives me all the info I want - and it does instantaneous pace instead of average pace. You should also check out Strava. This website allows for uploading mileage and pace information, tracking your runs and giving you all sorts of fun stats.

If you run alone you might want to think about getting a RoadID (www.roadid.com). You can include emergency contact info as well as medical concerns like asthma and allergies. I have one that I wear on my wrist every time I run. If you run at dark, you should consider reflective clothing and perhaps carrying pepper spray. 

On the really long runs you may find your body dipping in energy. For runs over 6 miles I generally use a Gu Energy Gel packet every three miles. Every runner has their favorite brand and flavor and there is no shortage of options. My suggestion here would be to try them out during training. You don't want to try anything new on race day. For a non-gel version I have also tried Clif Shot Bloks which are basically gummy candy. I've never tried these in a race, but they are great at the finish line.   

And that is the basics (or at least all I can think of presently). Try to keep your training fun. And let's not forget one of the biggest benefits of running this much...it is no big deal if you sneak another cookie:). May I suggest these?

{I am not receiving any money for my recommendations. All opinions are mine and based on personal experience.}