Jul 20, 2014

DIY Butterfly Wing Kit

I normally consider myself a 'rule follower'. Just ask my husband and he'll give you countless examples of my inability to break a rule. Or don't ask him, rather, as I am sure that would end up in some embarrassing story. However, one of my favorite little people turned 3 a few weeks ago and I promptly ignored the 'no gifts, please' on the party invitation without a second thought. I'm such a rebel, I know. Well, if I am being completely honest here, I thought about it a little bit, but only to come up with a way to give her a gift without contributing to the over-abundance of toys that plagues many a parent. Solution - give a gift that is really an activity. And instead of another 'craft' that gets stuffed in a box, how about a project that results in a unique set of butterfly wings for playing dress up? I can't exactly remember being 3 very well, but I have a feeling this craft/dress up combo would have been right up my alley. And bonus for the parents - it takes up minimal space once completed. Just throw it in the dress up bin with all the princess dresses and call it a day.

Wing Materials
Fabric - I used muslin, but other fabric like canvas would work also
Black Craft Paint
Fabric Medium
Paint brush
Black ribbon
Black thread and sewing machine
Fray Check (optional)

To make the wings, fold the fabric in half and sketch the wing outline with the fold of fabric as the center of the wings. Be mindful of the age/size of the child. Cut along the outline and lay the fabric flat on the ground. Outline (again in pencil) the areas you want to paint black. Using the monarch butterfly as an inspiration, I drew a simplified black outline with white spots around the wing edges. Be sure to leave lots of open space for the little artist to add her special touch. After mixing the medium and black craft paint per instructions on the paint medium bottle, paint the outlined black sections and let dry. I had originally intended to only paint one side of the fabric, but after seeing how the paint bled through, I thought making double sided wings would be even better. The following day I flipped the (now dry) fabric over and painted the same pattern on the other side. I didn't need to fray check the edges of the wings because the black paint 'sealed' the edges pretty well on its own.

At this point you will have beautiful wings, but no way to secure them to your little butterfly. Without exact arm measurements, I needed a simple and adjustable way to attach the wings to her arms that would allow for a range of sizes. After a little brainstorming I settled on a simple ribbon to tie on each arm.  First you will need to cut black ribbons about 18" long. Fold the ribbons in half and pin the center of each ribbon in position along the top of the wings an equal distance from the center. Sew the ribbon to the wings by sewing about an inch up and down a few times. You can fray check the edge of the ribbons as desired.

Now for the really fun part - assembling the kit. To fill your kit, you will need the following:

Kit Materials
3 Paint colors
Paint brush
Fabric Medium and black paint (used above)
3 small mason jars (for paint/medium mixing)
Printable Instructions for the parents
Clear plastic paint can and Silhouette Cameo with vinyl (optional for gift wrap)

You can use as many paint colors as you want here, but I found three to be a good balance of giving the little one options while not requiring mom/dad to mix a bunch of different colors with the medium. I did include the bottle of black paint used to create the wings in case they wanted to 'touch up' the black outline after the other painting was completed. I also printed some instructions for mom and dad, which can be found here.

At this point I had an adorable pile of paints, tiny jars, and butterfly wings and it would have been a shame to hide all of this in a box. So I packed it all up into a clear plastic paint can and the result was almost too perfect. I mean a painting kit in a paint can...come on. The contents of the paint can were already a bit 'busy', so I kept the can decorations minimal. By now you have probably realized that I use my Silhouette Cameo in nearly every project, so it should be no shock that I pulled it out here to make a custom label. I meshed a butterfly onto a scalloped frame, added the text, and then cut the whole label from a roll of hot pink vinyl. The vinyl stuck perfectly to the side of the paint can.

I look forward to seeing how they turn out! She's going to make a lovely butterfly.

Jul 19, 2014

Waterproof Picnic Blanket and Handle Wrap | A Tutorial

What do you give the person who has just about everything? I come upon this question all too frequently around gift giving occasions. Not because my family members are difficult to please, but rather because I just don't want to give them more 'stuff'. I find this particularly difficult with the guys of the family. I usually rely on my husband for 'guy ideas' - tools, bike stuff, gadgets etc. - stuff they will like and actually use. But every year there is one person that stumps us both. This year it was our brother-in-law. When we really get stumped we seem to explore 'experience gifts' (e.g. tickets to a game) or something handmade that will (hopefully) encourage fun experiences. After much brainstorming, online shopping (I have a toddler, gift shopping now rarely happens in stores), and reflection on their life/interests, I had an idea.

Now my sister and brother-in-law live in London with their two adorable dogs, Shirley and Frau. Last summer they generously invited us (and our 15 mo old at the time) to come visit in Oxford and London. They even put up with us and an overstimulated baby for two full weeks. We had ridiculously good weather while there and spent our days going on walks, exploring parks, and relaxing. I love London. I particularly love Green Park. Some of my best memories of London take place in parks. And though I have had sunny skies both times I have visited, rumor has it they have frequent rain. Where am I going with this? Well, I decided to make them a picnic blanket. A waterproof (rain = wet ground) and washable (dogs+parks+wet ground = mud) picnic blanket.

Now sure you can buy picnic blankets and some of them are really great. I happen to love mine that was purchased for us as a wedding gift almost 6 years ago. And that is where I started, but I just couldn't find one within our price range that seemed to fit their personality. Now by this time it was getting really close to Christmas and I was kind of freaking out. So I did what I really hate to do...I gave the 'promise' of a custom picnic blanket as his gift. And this apparently turned in to a long term promise as it is now July and I have just finished the gift. Do I feel horrible! Well, hopefully it was worth the wait!

After much searching in fabric stores, I could not seem to find the right combination of pattern, color, and durability. So I grabbed two compatible blue colors of Canvas Duck Cloth and set out to make a sufficiently gender neutral custom stripe pattern. And, of course, this would be no simple stripe pattern of equal widths, but a gradient of widths and alternating colors.

After a little math, I settled finished blanket dimensions of the full width of the fabric (approximately 60") x 84" (7 feet or 2 1/3 yards). (Apologies in advance for mixing inches, feet, and yards together in my measurement denotations below.) This length worked perfectly for stripe widths starting at 4" and incrementing by 4" up to 24".

For the waterproof layer, I decided on PUL (polyurethane laminate, 1Mil). This fabric makes up the outer shell of my cloth diapers and I've been impressed with its waterproof qualities and it is still soft, lightweight, and washable! I ordered 3 yards in a lovely Royal Blue from amazon. (I only needed 2 1/2 yards with seam allowances, but I wanted some buffer.)

Materials for the Blanket
2 1/2 yards of PUL (2 1/3 yards + seam allowances)
51" (approx 1 1/2 yards) of one color of canvas duck cloth
39" (approx 1 1/4 yards) of a second color of canvas duck cloth
Coordinating thread
Sewing Machine
Cutting and Measuring Tools
Iron and Ironing Board

Pre-wash all fabrics and dry according to fabric care instructions.

Cutting the Blanket Fabric
To end up with finished stripe dimensions of 24", 20", 16", 12", 8", and 4" you will need to account for seam allowances (1/2" used here) and cut canvas strips of 25", 21", 17", 13", 9", and 5". Remember the second dimension of the strips in each case is the full width of the fabric (around 60"). The canvas color that you have 51" of will be cut into strips of 25", 17", and 9". Likewise, the canvas color that you have 39" of will be cut into strips of 21", 13", and 5". The PUL should be cut to a length of 85".

Assembling the Canvas Stripes
First place all stripes next to each other on the floor in the order they will be sewn with right sides up. Start assembling the canvas stripes in pairs. First, place the right sides together of the 25" and 21" stripes and pin along the joining side. Repeat for the 17" and 13" pair, and the 9" and the 5" pair. Sew each pair along the pinned edge with a 1/2" seam allowance. You will then have three sewn pairs. Again lie all three pieces on the floor as they will be assembled in the final blanket. Pin the 25"/21" pair to the 17"/13" pair along the joining side with right sides together. Sew along the pinned edge with a 1/2" seam allowance. Again lay the pieces on the floor and pin the final 9"/5" pair to the rest of the blanket along the final joining side with right sides together. Sew along the pinned side with a 1/2" seam allowance.  The canvas stripes should now be fully assembled into the top of the blanket!

Press the seams flat (open) on the wrong side of the blanket (shown below) and iron any wrinkles or creases in the canvas. Once attached to the PUL, you will not be able to iron the blanket without damaging the PUL.

Blanket Assembly

Next lay the PUL shiny side up on the floor. Place the striped blanket (right side down) on top of the shiny side of the PUL. In other words the two right sides of the fabric should be facing each other (together). Remember you will want to minimize pinning because you are poking holes in the waterproof layer. Also, the PUL will stretch slightly in one direction as you sew. To accommodate for this, I lightened up the pressure on the presser foot and pinned/sewed one side at a time. I also would suggest sewing down both sides and across the top and bottom in the same direction (e.g. left to right) instead of in a continuous line around the blanket to prevent twisting due to stretching in different directions. Start by pinning (sparingly) along the top side of the blanket. Sew along the pinned side with a 1/2" seam allowance and stop (backstitching at both ends). Once I completed this, I only noticed about 1/4" of stretching with my PUL which wasn't too bad. Next pin along the length of the blanket and sew. Then pin down the other long side of the blanket and sew. Finally, pin and sew the bottom of the blanket in the same direction as the top, leaving about 18" open in the center of this side. This gap will allow be used to turn the blanket right side out and will be closed upon topstitching.

Cut the corners of the blanket which will make for cleaner corners upon turning right side out. Be careful not to nip the seams. Turn the blanket right side out. Remember do not press the blanket. Instead, straighten the blanket, push the corners out fully (I use a point turner), and make sure the edges are fully laid out and ready for topstitching. Fold and pin the open section to match the rest of the blanket. I did also pin the edges of the blanket on all sides (sparingly) to make sure the edges stayed fully laid out and straight. Top stitch around the entire blanket 1/4" from the edge. I did complete this in one continuous seam all the way around the blanket. Pay particular attention to the area that had been left open, making sure the top stitching catches the folded fabric and seals the blanket fully.

Voila, the blanket is complete! However, carrying a large blanket to and from a park can be a bit frustrating if there is no way to keep it all together. As this gift was already 7! months late, I figured I would go the extra mile and make a matching blanket wrap with handle.

Materials for the Wrap/Handle
2 pieces of canvas fabric 11" x 21"
1 strip of canvas 3 1/2" x 10"
Two Buttons, 1" diameter
Coordinating thread
Sewing Machine
Cutting and Measuring Tools
Iron and Ironing Board

Wrap Dimensions and Assembly
To determine the dimensions of the wrap, I folded the finished picnic blanket in thirds the long way and rolled it up. Then I measured the width and circumference. I settled on finished dimensions of the wrap to be 10" x 20" (plus 1/2" seam allowances on all sides), hence the two 11" x 21" rectangles of canvas. For construction of the wrap, you can think of the wrap as if it were a tiny blanket. First, pin the two pieces of fabric with the right sides together and stitch around the edge of the blanket with a 1/2" seam allowance, leaving a few inches open on one of the sides. Snip the corners and turn the blanket right side out through the open seam. Press the corners out fully and iron flat. Fold the fabric at the open section to match the rest of the seam and pin together. Topstitch around the border of the wrap 1/4" from the edge, again making sure that the area left open is caught and sealed by the topstitch.

Now find your two 1" buttons and place them approximately 3 inches from edges of the long side of the wrap and about an inch in from the edge of the short side. Sew the buttons to the wrap. Next mark the locations of the button holes. When folded up in thirds lengthwise and rolled, my blanket measured approximately 18" in circumference. This meant that I needed the center point of my buttons to be 18" from the outermost end of the button hole. Sew the button holes and cut the center open. Test the buttons and fit around the blanket.

Handle Dimensions and Assembly
And finally, it is time to make the handle. With a desired handle dimension of 1.5" x 8", you will need a 3.5" x 10" strip of fabric. Fold the strip in half lengthwise (right sides together) and sew along the long open side. Turn the 'tube' you have just created inside out and press with an iron. Top stitch along both long sides 1/8" from the edge to create a finished look. At both ends of the handle, fold under 1" of the handle and press a crease. Position the handle where you want it on the wrap (I did mine in the middle) and pin it in place, making sure the 1" portions on each side are folded under. Where the handle overlaps the 1" portions on each end of the handle, sew a box around the overlapping parts and an x across the center of the box for stability.

Care for the Blanket
With some of the special handling needed with waterproof material, I would suggest including care/washing instructions for your blanket. I included the following on a tag with the gift:

Waterproof Blanket Care 
Wash the blanket on medium to high heat
Do not use fabric softeners or bleach
Tumble dry low or air dry
Do not iron

Now I kind of want to make these blankets for everyone. I think they would make spectacular wedding gifts, bridal shower gifts, birthday gifts...you get the idea. If I didn't already have a picnic blanket I would make myself one too!

Jul 18, 2014

DIY Felt Nursery Mobile - A Baby Shower Group Activity

If you have read any of my baby shower posts, you have probably noticed that I am a huge fan of forgetting the often awkward baby shower games and instead completing a group activity or project. I've held a few no-game baby showers, and judging by the look of relief on the guests' faces they seem to be a welcome change-up. At a recent safari animal themed shower I tested an idea that has turned out to be my favorite so far - making a felt animal mobile! I think what I love most about this project is that the result was a special keepsake for the nursery made by friends and family.

You might be thinking...'How on earth do you make an entire mobile in the span of one baby shower?' Well, you don't. But with a little planning and prep work, you can get the bulk of the work done while keeping it fun and relaxed.

So, where do you start? With the mom-to-be.

As a rule, when I am considering creating something for the nursery, I opt for discussing the details with the mom-to-be instead of keeping it a surprise. I know I was picky about what went into my nursery and you really want her to like it! I discussed a few potential projects with the guest of honor before we settled on the mobile. We also talked specifics on the animal designs, colors, and materials. Let her be as involved as she wants to be - this should be fun for her too:).

As I mentioned, this project took a fair bit of planning and pre-shower prep work. You can draw inspiration for your mobiles from anywhere - pinterest, etsy, google images. Get creative! Inspiration for these animals came from various images and patterns online, though in the end I had to size and hand draw each one, adjusting the pattern so that each animal would be double sided. You can find all of my prep work, templates, and instruction packets here. We ended up with nine animals: toucan, lion, tiger, rhino, hippo, elephant, giraffe, zebra, alligator.

To give the guests the best shot of finishing on time, you will need to completed some of the work in advance. Prior to the shower I suggest you:

Select designs and make patterns
Purchase materials (see list below)
Pre-cut all the felt pieces
Embroider any details (like the animal faces)
Complete one animal as an example (and to help you write the instructions)
Type up instructions for each animal and take pictures of what the animals should look like assembled (see my instructions here)
Assemble an activity packet for each animal including: embroidery thread, needle, instructions, photo, and all the pre-cut animal pieces

The day of the shower, each guest received an activity packet including all the items they would need to complete her animal. We also placed a few shared supplies in the middle of the table: fabri-tac, scissors, pins, bamboo skewers and fiber-fill for stuffing.

The guests were tasked with assembling the pieces per the photos, glueing on any details, lightly stuffing the animal, and sewing the border. This turned out to be plenty of work to keep them busy, and in the end I only had to finish up a few of the animals.

One last quick note before I go into the after-shower mobile assembly - You might want to consider having an alternative project available for those less comfortable with crafting. This is also a good idea if you have more guests than mobile animals. A mobile with 23 animals might be a bit ridiculous (or it could be awesome - your call). See my safari baby shower post for the details of the alternative project we chose - animal silhouette art.

Final assembly of the mobile is too much to expect within the 'limitations' of a baby shower. Promising the guests that I would send pictures of the completed mobile, I packed up the animals and supplies for assembly at home. I'll also confess that at the time of the shower I wasn't entirely clear on the assembly specifics. Thankfully, it turned out to be easier than I expected.

First, I attached a long strand of white embroidery thread to the top of each animal. It is important to attach this thread not necessarily in the middle of the animal, but at a point that results in a balanced animal (not slanted to one side).  I put a small dab of glue on the knot to prevent unraveling. For additional decoration and color, I strung tiny felt balls on the thread above the animals.

There are a few options for the frame of a mobile.  I chose to use embroidery hoops - one 14" and one 7" diameter hoop, both painted white with craft paint. (I didn't think of this at the time, but you could also have a few guests paint the embroidery hoops during the shower.) After I decided how to allot animals between the two hoops and recruited my lovely assistant (aka my husband), I started the final assembly.

Once all the animals were secured to thread, I fed each animal's thread between the two pieces of the embroidery hoop, spacing them evenly around the circumference.  Gathering all the animal strands for the outer hoop together, I lifted the assembly off the table like it would hang from the ceiling. At this point my husband held the strands so I could balance the mobile. After carefully positioning the animals at the same height, I tightened the embroidery hoop to secure the threads in place. Then I tied the bunch of threads to a small wooden ring (also painted white), making sure the embroidery hoop stayed evenly balanced. Once the outer hoop was secured, I repeated the positioning and balancing of the animals for the second smaller hoop. Positioning the smaller hoop to hang inside and slightly below the larger hoop, I secured the second hoop threads to the same small wooden ring, again making sure the mobile stayed evenly balanced. You can add small dabs of glue to secure parts of the mobile as needed.

{Update: In the time since this party, I have completed DIY mobiles at two other baby showers. A second option for constructing the mobile uses only the inner wooden ring of the embroidery hoop. Essentially you complete all the above steps, but instead of sandwiching the thread between the two hoops, you simply wrap the thread around the inner continuous hoop (not the one with the screw and opening) and secure it with a knot. This method works equally as well and removes the screw portion of the hoop from the mobile. Just be sure to pay particular attention to balancing the mobile while tying the knots.}

I delivered the mobile to the mom-to-be as soon as it was finished. I'm thrilled with how it turned out. It looks very happy to me. I have a feeling this is not the last mobile I'll be making at a baby shower.

Embroidery needles
Embroidery thread in matching colors to sew the animal border and hang the animals from the frame
Felt sheets - I used 100% wool
Felt balls - I used 100% wool
Pins (optional)
Bamboo skewers
Embroidery hoops - one 14" and one 7"
Craft paint and brush
Small wood ring