What did you think of the family portraits all in mismatched frames, painted the same color? I thought it turned out pretty rad and I kind of want to do it all over my house now... The kids and I picked out a bunch of random 5x7 frames at the thrift store for super cheap and gave them a second chance. Here's how we did it:
Some days I feel as if I can't get out of my own way. At the end of the day I can't think of a single thing I've started and actually finished... Nothing to show for my incredibly long, exhausting day! Such is the life of a mom. The "product" we produce is a lack of chaos, nothing you can hold up proudly and say, "Look what I did!" but rather, a lack of dirty dishes in the sink, a lack of hungry tummies, a lack of piles of dirty laundry. If we do our jobs well enough, it's hardly noticeable, just a clean, well-run home to show for it. It looks so easy from the outside! I think this is why things like sewing and knitting, and creating things are so appealing to me. There's actually a concrete object to show for my work, something I can hold in my hands (aside from sweet, happy babies, of course; they're plenty holdable, huggable and clear evidence of a labor of love). So, after a day of feeling as if I've accomplished nothing, it feels good to sit down to a quick and satisfying project. The mittens I made Sam last year got a hole in the thumb. I fixed it, but it made the thumb considerably shorter and they were getting a bit small anyway. So, I dug into the basket of felted wool sweaters and whipped up a few more pairs for Sam. The first time I traced his hand to make a pattern. This time I just traced the already made mitten, adding a bit more for a seam allowance to to make them slightly larger, since he's a year older. These are the absolute easiest project in the world, and it feels so satisfying to see a stack of something, anything, actually finished. It helps when Sam dances around with glee when I make him things too:) I also whipped up a few pairs of leg warmers from some worn out socks for Vivian. Got to keep those babies warm!
I forgot to show you guys this sweet little Christmas dress I fixed up for Viv. It came with some hand-me-downs and I although I wasn't all that jazzed about it (couldn't really get into that flower detail...) I couldn't bring myself to get rid of it because it was so soft and snuggly, just the kind of thing baby girls should wear. But it hung in her closet not being worn until finally I decided I would either make it something I actually wanted to see her in or just donate it.
Thanks to a little red grossgrain I had lying around the fix took all of fifteen or twenty minutes and it's now one of my favorite dresses for her! Sometimes it's so hard to see beyond what is to what could be. This is why I'm not the best thrifter. Some people have such a gift for seeing what something could become, when I often only see junk. But I'm working on my thrifting skills and this little dress fix is encouraging!
It was really the easiest project, just a matter of sewing some pretty red ribbon over the (not-so-pretty) flower pattern. Then I added a bit at the empire waist because it was a tad wide for her, and because a sweet bow tied in the back was just so darling she gets a dozen extra squeezes every time she wears this dress.
Something in the air has had me at my sewing machine knocking out quick and cozy attire for my little ones. Well, the flannel-lined pants cannot technically be defined as quick... They should have been. But, because I don't actually know anything about sewing (really, for someone who sews as much as I do, it's shocking how little I know about the actual ins and outs of it), it took much, much longer. But, on the upside, I learned a ton, and my next pair of flannel-lined whatevers is going to be a breeze. And they still look cute (as long as you don't look too closely).
The owl print flannel is from Modern Organic Fabrics. I've got some pink bunny flannel from the same line that's destined to become something for Viv; I'm thinking a reversible dress.
Of course, I can never stay away from the felted wool when in a quick and cozy mood. The sweater pants I made for Sam a year or two ago have gotten much use and are now about three inches too short for him. But, no problem, sweater pants are about as easy as a project can get. I don't worry too much about how they look, as their main purpose is to serve as long johns under his waterproof pants (so much less bulky than normal kids' snowsuits and just as warm with wool longies underneath).
Take two felted sweater sleeves and use a pants pattern to eyeball about how you should cut it (fold the pattern in half because, of course, the side seams are already done for you). Or use a pair of pants as the pattern. You can leave the waist extra long and if you make it narrow enough the natural stretch of the sweater and extra length will mean that you can skip the waistband altogether. Just sew those two pieces together along the inseam (right sides together so the seam ends up on the inside) and there you have it: super warm, snuggly, 100% wool long johns. These really only take a matter of minutes to make and they are so worth having on hand.
Even Vivian got a few snuggly additions to her wardrobe. I had a pair of SmartWool socks that wore out in the heels (much too fast, I might add; is it my imagination or are they not what they used to be?). I followed this tutorial to make them into legwarmers. They're even kind of Christmasy:) And now that I've satisfied my maternal urges to bundle those babes, it's back to making Christmas presents!
Sometimes we get lucky as we peruse the aisles of the local thrift stores. This vintage Mother Goose book was just one of those times. I'm so in love with the illustrations. And Sam, who has always had a thing for poetry and rhyming stories, will sit with rapt attention for almost half the book (it's a big, hardcover book with TONS of her poems).
The book is in perfect condition, so I wouldn't dream of cutting it up, but if I had happened to find an old ratty copy with missing pages, I think it would have made the perfect book to turn into wall art. As it is, it holds a treasured spot on his book shelf with the other hardcover "pretty" books (as opposed to the board books and more loved books, which sit on the lower, easily accessible shelves).
I love this quote from the introduction, "From a literary standpoint, these verses... train the ear and stir the imagination... We do not hesitate to place this venerable classic on the shelf beside our Shakespeare, and to send our children there for delight and inspiration." It is certainly true that in all their simplicity, these childhood rhymes have the ring of great literature. I love filling Sam's ears with rich, solid, beautiful text and images.
And what of Mother Goose? The biography of the woman behind the verses is murky and mysterious, which I think only adds to their appeal, elevating them somehow. Whoever she was, she certainly knew how to turn a pretty phrase, as Sam can eagerly attest.
As you may or may not know, I have something of a love affair with felted wool. It's one of my very things to craft and sew with. Consequently I have a (very) large basket overflowing with felted sweaters and scrap bits. A few months ago, Sam stopped using diapers altogether. We still had him in something absorbent at night though. However, since he was waking up dry every morning, we decided to just go for it and make it baby boxers all the time. Buuuut, not without a teeny little bit of back up, just in case.
I love the idea of those felted wool pads for toddlers' beds (or nursing and/or cosleeping parents), but they're kind of expensive. That's when I realized I could put all those small and oddly shaped scraps of felted wool to work! I gathered up a big pile and fit them together like a jigsaw puzzle, then pinned the seams together. This required a bit of finagling and trimming, but wool is a forgiving fabric.
Once it was all pinned I just zipped all those seams together on the sewing machine and that was that. I had to go back over a few spots that turned out kind of wonky or lumpy. It was a pretty imprecise project, but it didn't need to be perfect, just water resistant. And, were I so inclined, I could have sewed a cute binding around the edge or something. But, as it was, I just tossed it on his bed, where it's been ever since. And I must add, where it's remained perfectly dry. Have to give credit where credit is due!
Here's Sam modeling the comfiness of the pad. This is how he normally looks in the morning, covers tossed off, hair a fuzzy halo, but with eyes closed:) Now that it's gotten warmer I've just layered a light cotton over it so he's not right on the wool. Although, wool actually stays pretty cool in the summer if you're just laying on it, not wrapping up in it, of course. Unfortunately (or not...), this only made the slightest dent in my wool stash, which means there are more felted wool projects to come!
I think Sam's expression pretty much sums up the disaster this experiment in upcycling turned into. Remember those sweater pants I made for Sam? Well, I had visions of making a little cable knit vest from the same material with some folksy stitching around the arm holes. But somehow I just wasn't getting it right and the arms looked sort of wing-like and the stitching looked crappy, not folksy. So, it sat on my craft table for many months. Finally this past weekend while working on a quilt, I saw that piece of felted sweater and said, "you've been here long enough!" And zip, zip! it became a hat! Sometimes the things you make the least plans for, that you just wing in a burst of creative energy, turn out the best.
I stitched two points into the rectangle of material and added some ear flaps and strings to tie under his chin in some red jersey knit. The red trim didn't quite meet in the back, so I added a little square of that Guatemalan material that I made the sling out of (as well as a pair of rugged play pants for Sam). I ended up loving the way the striped patch looked on the back. Funny how little accidents can sometimes turn out to be the best part of a project.
I'm so thrilled with how this hat turned out. It's a bit out of season, so hopefully his head doesn't grow too much over the summer. We did have a freak snowstorm though, during which I took Sam on plenty of errands so he could debut his new hat. I just about melt from cute overload every time I look at him in that pointy-eared gremlin hat.
Like mom and dad, Sam is a little string bean. There's pretty much no hope of this kid ever becoming a linebacker (thank goodness!), maybe a great runner or rock climber, but not so much anything that requires some serious bulk, including fitting into any training pants available in regular stores. Sam's been using the potty since he was quite small, and we've had more or less success, depending on my diligence.
As long as I remind him to go, we're pretty good at avoiding accidents. But, I decided it was time to step it up a notch and have him start taking responsibility for it. We were waiting for warmer weather, so I wouldn't feel like a bad mother letting him run around with no pants on. Pants are a serious hindrance when you're under two and have to pee. Unfortunately, when we went to the store, I could see at a glance that the training pants would be around his ankles and no use to us whatsoever. So, besides 24/7 nakedness (which would be just fine with Sam!), what's a mother to do? Stock up on tiny, cotton baby pants at the thrift store and turn them into wee toddler boxers, that's what!
The first pair ended up looking a bit more boxer brief-ish, but he still seemed to think they were quite the thing. After figuring out the right length, I just lopped off the legs on the rest and sent them through the wash, no need for hemming or anything that labor-intensive. We've got about a dozen or so pairs now.
Is there anything cuter than teeny, tiny baby buns in teeny, tiny baby boxers? I think not. And so far, he seems to be doing a little better each day taking himself to the potty and not needing to be reminded. Though I'm very open to any tips or tricks from experienced moms out there! All the good books on potty training were checked out at the library, so I've just been winging it. We do have a sticker chart though...
I started a project that is somewhat new baby-related, though not exactly for her. I'm planning on spending most of June and July parked on the back lawn, in a sundress, by the kiddie pool. Being that I'll have reached whale proportions by then, I don't anticipate wanting to do much else in the heat of the desert sun. So, I thought a light, summery quilt to lay on was in order, but I picked girly, floral prints in honor of the new little one. Since Sam has some mama-made quilts, I thought this could be hers, even though it's a big one.
While cutting up the sheets for the quilt squares I had to cut off the elastic edges as some were bottom sheets. I noticed that, at six to eight inches long, the cut off edges somewhat resembled tiny skirts... Never to be one to let an easy project slip through my fingers, I zipped up the sides and added some hems, and voila! Darling baby skirts!
I had enough of one pattern to make a double layered skirt and couldn't resist adding a bit of bias tape along the hem. This one she probably won't be able to wear until she's at least three or four, but the other one is tiny enough to wear quite soon! I made both of these in about twenty or thirty minutes. I LOVE quick and satisfying projects. It was so great not to have to deal with finicky elastic or any of that. Now I might have to go out and find some more vintage sheets just to make cute skirts!
And here is the inimitable Piggy, Sam's dear friend and partner in crime, modeling the tiny skirt. I have a feeling it will look better on our little girl, who will hopefully not be so porcine in appearance:)
Clayton came home from Idaho with the trunk full of treasures from his cousin; bags and boxes full of baby girl clothes! I didn't realize that I like pink as much as I do, but I kind of swooned at the floral explosion and pink and purple preciousness.
I've only purchased a handful of clothing items new for Sam; a couple pairs of shoes, a jacket, maybe a few other things. We received so many great hand-me-downs and the thrift stores are just chock full of practically new stuff that I couldn't see any good reason to buy new stuff except for the pure entertainment value of shopping. But, that entertainment factor can definitely be found in thrift store shopping as well. I love the high of finding a true treasure for mere pennies!
Besides being light on the wallet, using previously-used stuff is kinder to Mother Nature. We produce so much STUFF that it seems silly not to pass it around, rather than throw it out and create more. I'm certainly not into dressing my kids in ugly stuff (luckily Clay's cousin has great taste; I loved everything and it was all in immaculate condition!). When I peruse the thrift racks I've got my eyes out for good brands and quality materials.
It really was delightful to to be knee deep in tiny frilly things. It made me so excited for our little girl to arrive!
What are some of your favorite second-hand sources or best thrifting success stories?
Sometimes the thrifting gods are just on your side. I was complaining to Clay that I wanted to get Sam an easel, but I couldn't find any solid wooden ones for less than $60. "I think I saw one at D.I." he said. So, we hurried over there, and lo and behold, it was still there! That, in and of itself, was a miracle of a semi-religious nature. The thrifting golden rule is "Buy it When You See it!" But it was still there a couple days later and we happily snatched it up.
With a little soap and water I was able to removed the old paint and marker stains and get it looking brand new. Of course, Sam quickly decorated it with his own marker and paint splotches. But, I like the looks of his much better than the other ones. It's a really sturdy one, the kind you'd find in a school, that can stand up to lots of wear and tear. I was so thrilled to find it!
Sam has been equally enthusiastic about using it several times a day. It thrills me to see him exploring color and texture, layering paint, trying new brush techniques, rejoicing at the cacophony of color he creates and telling me elaborate stories about what he's painting. The painting above is of a hippo splashing in the water; do you see it?
Naturally, we think Sam is quite gifted; we ooh and aah over each brush stroke and each completed masterpiece. But I'm already wondering, where will I put all these precious masterpieces... ?
Last weekend we had Clayton's three brothers and their wives all over for an evening of ornament making. This year has involved more handmade goodness than ever and it just makes for such a festive, merry atmosphere. There's something about creating Christmas by hand that gives it so much more meaning and helps to remind you of what it's all about.
Clay reminded me today that the Savior was a carpenter, and commented how it was appropriate that we should be making things with our own two hands when we reflect on his life. Certainly ornament-making is a bit more frivolous, but it seems to hold truer to the spirit of Christmas than mere consumption and has definitely helped me stay a little more centered.
We made figures out of Sculpey clay, salt dough snow flakes, popcorn chains, little felt elves and one couple even started a tradition of making an ornament that looks like the other one- funny and sweet.
It's so great having family close enough to start the holiday festivities well before the 25th. Though we now have a nicely decorated tree, the process of gathering and creating together was even more enjoyable.
The air is chilly, soup's on the menu and here comes another easy peasy project from my very favorite material! I'd been wanting some long mittens for Sam. You know how short mittens always sneak out of the jacket sleeve and leave that chilly bit of wrist exposed? I hate that! So, some extra-long, near-elbow-length mittens were in order.
I had Sam lay his hand on some paper and did a loose outline of his little paw. I dug into my felted wool box and found a snugly grey and blue sweater just right for winter mittens. With the outline pinned to the sleeve of the sweater I cut loosely around it leaving enough for a seam.
I kept the paper pinned to the wool to use as a guide and just zigzagged around it. Hopefully if you try some mittens like this you'll remember to reverse the fabric on both mittens, not just one like I did! But regardless of the mismatch patterns Sam seemed pretty pleased with his new mittens and wore them around the house all afternoon.
I've had the idea and the supplies for this project for several weeks and I finally had the time last weekend to sit down and put the two together! The lovely Betz White of this week's MamaView posted about green lunch kits and linked to these two tutorials.
I glanced over the tutorials and then just winged it! One of those plastic table cloths and some cloth napkins found at the thrift store made the perfect material. The fuzzy side of the table cloth made it stick to the napkin nicelyso they didn't slide around while sewing them. I cut squares of the tablecloth to the same size as the napkins and then sewed them together; one side cloth, the other side waterproof for the inside of the bag.
Then I stitched velcro to two opposite sides on the tablecloth side. DO NOT use that sticky-backed kind! It is such a pain to use and you don't need it to be sticky if you're going to be sewing it on anyway.
Then stick those velcro pieces together and sew up the sides. You're going to have raw hems on the outside because you don't want them folded in or they'll get all in the food on the inside of the bag. You want the inside nice and clean.
Then to solve the raw edge problem, pin on some pretty binding and sew it up!
These are really addicting to make so you might find yourself with a whole set before you know it! They sew up so quickly, it's a satisfying project.
We put them to use right away and packed some snacks for a car ride to Sam's cousin's. And since then they've been in high demand. Sam and I use them to pack snacks and Clay's been carrying various parts of his lunch to work in them. I think I'd better make some more...
So, after getting all inspired from the felting book I made Sam some Autumn/winter duds. He won't wear the vest (which I haven't finished) and the pants together (that would just be weird), but they did come from the same cable knit sweater.
I was thrilled with how much I was able to take advantage of the already existing shapes in the upcycled clothing I used. The legs of the pants are the sweater sleeves.
I added a waistband because there wasn't enough material in the sleeves to make a roomy seat to accommodate bulky cloth diapers (though maybe Sam will be out of them this winter? Here's hoping!)
And I used the cuff from a pair of old, funky pants, so the hem served as the spot to slide the elastic through!
It was one of the quickest pairs of pants I've made for Sam and I love seeing his little bird legs all cable-knitty and cozy. I can't wait until the weather is a little chillier and he can wear them.
(Amy's note: if all the technical woodworking details from my long-winded sweetheart are a big much for you, just skip to the last paragraph and picture; it's beautiful! I kind of groove on all the how-to myself, but that may be an acquired interest...)
At this point in the construction of the table my family came for a visit and all wanted to see what I was working on. I showed them my progress with enthusiasm. I don’t think they understood what was going on, because with just two ends to the base, it still didn’t look like anything. You may be thinking the same thing. I confess that I am reluctant to show anyone works in progress (the same goes for paintings) because it seems like only the person working on it can make the leap from where the project is to where it will be.
I ended up using bed hardware to attach the two ends of the base together based on my brother's advice. With the hardware attached, I “dry-fitted” everything to see how it came together. It all fit very tightly and the whole structure was sturdy and didn’t rock or creak or twist!
The last step of the base assembly was to fit the stretcher into place and trace the edge where it came through the center panel in order to cut a hole in each end for the “keys.” A “key” is little more than a wedge that you tap in and it holds the tenon tight against it’s adjoining piece. Keyed tenons also happen to look primitive and cool.
The top was really quite a lot of work, but the steps were basic. I took the cherry planks that I traded my old boss for, then rip cut them into 1 3/4 strips, glued seven or eight pieces at a time together, butcher-block style, clamped them and repeated this step until I had enough sections to add up to 40 inches. I then planed each section to 1 1/2 inches and glued and clamped them all together being careful to keep the top surface really flat and even. From there it was just a lot of hand planing, and several rounds of sanding.
For the top, we opted for a natural, hand rubbed finish. Lacquer and urethane finishes look beautiful, but they scratch and we didn’t want to worry about keeping it pristine and shiny. That is another reason we made it butcher block style, for the ruggedness.
I used several coats of Danish oil and once that was dry, we used some natural paste wax. The look and feel of it are really pleasing. If in a few years if we want to sand off the blueberry stains and evidence of Sam’s art projects, and rub some more Danish oil into it, it will be really easy.
For the base I did use some regular polyurethane for wood floors. It completely sealed all of the chipping paint, and splintery wood. Sadly, it darkened everything more than I had hoped, but check out the finished product! The only things I purchased for this project were: finish, sandpaper and the hardware. There are ways to make useful, well-crafted things for next to nothing!
That was a lot to say about something so basic as a table. In truth, when you want something to be special, you either spend a gang of cash on it, or you build it yourself. And if you’re going to build it, put some love into it! Important things happen around tables; you eat, sew, read, make art, grow close to your family, get to know neighbors, celebrate. The table is a place to verbalize the bitter things and the good things about life. With luck, your great grand kids will gather around it someday for a game of scrabble and a piece of birthday cake.
Here is the step-by-step taken without the usual eloquence of my wife’s artfully composed shots. These were taken in the “first person” so you may plug yourself in as the one building it. For any unfamiliar terms (like the endless incarnations of mortise and tenon joints for example) there’s always Wikipedia! I offer this for the interested, more of an FYI than a How-to. For the short attention-spanned skip the text, just look at the pictures!Before getting started I chose several posts that were relatively the same size; all of them roughly 3 1/2 inches squared ( a few of them had to have a side ripped down to make them more or less square. ) There were two posts that measured closer to 4 1/2 inches, which I used for the top rails of the base.
ONE- With my original sketch as a guide, I drew the design life-sized on the garage floor.
TWO- Determining the angle of the posts. I transferred the angle from the floor and traced it directly onto one of the four posts. I then hoisted the post onto the miter saw and moved the bevel until the blade lined up with my mark. It turned out to be exactly five degrees, which was lucky. I used that same 5 degree bevel many different times during the process. I cut both the top and bottom of each of the four posts at 5 degrees so that they were parallel, causing them to taper in towards each other when sitting flat on the floor.
FOUR- The center panel with a tenon on either end to fit snugly in the mortises. I cut the tenons on the table saw, sending the piece through upright (I made a jig to hold it vertically and to keep it safe.)
SIX- Cleaning out the open mortise using the age old method of hacking away at it with a chisel. I also used a coping saw to keep my trusty five degree angle precise.
EIGHT-...and persuaded into the open mortise in the top rail.
NINE- The center panel is tapped into the top and bottom rails, the posts are tapped into the rails, and all of the joints are clamped. The final step is to drill two holes per joint in order to hammer in oak pegs (O.K. I did have to buy SOME wood, but two 50-cent oak dowels hardly count) which lock the joints together and keep them from moving. This is one of two bases.
Design had to be dictated somewhat by what was available to work with. For the base of the table, what I had to work with was reclaimed cedar (if you want to use the “value-added” expression) or old boards and scraps that normal people throw away (if you want to be honest.) It was really great looking stuff, though. One of the pieces had some peeling white paint with a section where maybe fifty years ago a kid had scribbled on it with a colored pencil. I got a kick out of that. The other pieces were silvery with age or had a glorious patina of dirt and the color wood turns after years of being out in the rain. For the table top, I managed to find something less lowbrow. I traded my old employer for a big pile of rustic cherry I knew wasn’t very useful to him. The grand total for the wood came to free ninety-nine. I was so satisfied.
Still the project lagged. Each evening at dinner I was reminded of our lowly position on the floor. As soon as Amy and Sam left for Maine, I saw my opportunity and the sawdust began to fly...
To be continued...
I've gotten all excited about healthy microorganisms. First I read this book, and most of what he said made a lot of sense, but the ideas about how our modern diet is so lacking in beneficial bacteria really stuck with me. So then I got this book out of the library and it's RAD. It inspired a trip to the thrift store in search of old crocks. I then embarked on my first adventure in using fermentation to preserve foods with the help of beneficial bacteria and fungi.
First we gathered up a bunch of beets from the garden, Early Wonders and Chioggias.
We washed and peeled them, saving all the scraps for the grateful chickens.
I buzzed them through the Cuisinart into shreds, and added salt and anise seeds that I had roughly ground up.
Then the shredded beets, salt and seeds were pressed into this crock that we thrifted for about a dollar, and I set a plate with a jar of water on top of the beets to keep them pressed down. Over the next day or two the brine was expressed from the beets and I added a little bit of extra salty water to keep the level above the plate. It should take between 1 and 4 weeks for the flavor to fully develop. You can snack from it as it's "brewing," and then once the full flavor is developed you pop it in the fridge to slow the fermentation and it stays in there quite a long time. I snuck a little taste after about a week and it mostly just tasted like salty beets, not too much "saur" going on in there yet, but I'm excited to see what happens in the next few weeks! Stay tuned for more adventures in fermentation; I've got plans for pickles, yogurt, and maybe fruit kimchi!
I have this problem where I go to the thrift store for one thing, say children's books or silver mixing bowls, and come back with that, plus half a dozen things I didn't know I desperately needed! Thrift store shopping, like garage sale-ing and antique-ing, gives me a certain adrenaline rush, the thrill of discovering the hidden treasure is addicting.
This week Sam and I went specifically in search of fabric and come home with some fabulous vintage pieces; a thick green stripe and a plaid for some snappy pants for him, a heavy woven material that I hope to make a hammock out of, and some great king sized floral print sheets from the 70s that I'm going to make some summer pajama pants out of. Of course, we also found a few kitchen gadgets, some wonderful old patterns and a children's book we couldn't live without.