Handmade Hearts…

As a maker, you would think that I never buy commercial Valentine cards. In a perfect world, I would make all holiday and event gifts, cards, and decor by hand. Now just imagine that. Not happening. I buy things like most everyone else, and for the same reasons. Time, resources, personal tastes, etc. So this year I bought Valentines with cute erasers for my 6yr old to give to her classmates. And then I felt guilty. How many cards are actually saved? What is the real lasting value? I bet all of these end up in the trash or recycle bin. In our home, we have amassed quite a collection of (unused) erasers and pencils from every holiday and birthday. Too much stuff.

So I returned the Valentines and erasers to the store, then sat down with my daughters to create special hand made hearts using supplies we already had at home.

The first is a transparent heart filled with glitter and iridescent paper hearts inscribed with sweet phrases. The plastic for the heart was cut from packaging for a bed linen set. We used a sewing machine to stitch the edge in pink thread, but handstitching would be extra special.

Next, we made a 3D heart ornament using a hot pink paper that we had collected from a recycling bin. Using a paper punch, we cut 14 hearts, folded them in half, and glued them together. We added the ribbon before gluing the final sides.

Finally we cut up an old, dark pink, wool sweater that we first felted by washing and drying hot. Felted wool can be cut without unraveling. We used a sewing machine to stitch around the edge with pink thread, filling the heart with polyester fill that we had saved from an old stuffed animal. “Love” was handstitched onto the heart with cream wool yarn.

I can never assume that these handmade Valentines will be saved or cherished any longer than a storebought one. But I’m OK with that since the resources we used were either on-hand, or upcycled. The real value is the experience of making them and giving them away. That is a lasting, joyful memory.

Collaborating for a cause…

Collaboration, like solo creation, usually starts with an idea, vision, or concept, that is then altered as the process unfolds. But unlike solo creation, collaboration affords many more opportunities for unexpected outcomes. When collaborating with young children, I like to set parameters for success by limiting color choices, size, and shape. In this class art project for the school auction, each Pre-K student made a circle-ish piece of flat felt using three colors of alpaca roving donated by Flying Dutchman Alpacas. A dinner plate set the size limit as they laid out the layers of roving in one main color. Two other colors of roving were added in the final layer in whatever design they chose.

After the student’s felt pieces were finished, I spent about a week just exploring different wall hanging ideas. I even worked with the children a second time to create felted wool balls that I thought would be a part of the final piece.  My original wall hanging concept just didn’t seem right anymore. Then a conversation with a friend sparked the idea of using leather as a backdrop for the felt.

Although I had never worked with leather before, I was up for the challenge. The leather was generously donated by Maverick Leather, and Warpony Saddlery punch all the holes for stitching, saving me countless hours. Each piece of leather was hand cut in an irregular circle to highlight the raw, organic shape of felt. A hand sewn saddle stitch in artificial sinew creates a contrasting border. Unseen are dozens of holes that I hand punched into each circle of leather so the children could easily hand stitch their felt piece onto the leather using wool yarn and a large eye needle. Their unique, individual stitches add more texture and personality to the wall hanging. Finally, a juniper branch was cleaned and sanded by a friend with all the right power tools.

The culmination was a large, colorful felt and leather wall hanging – a collaborative creation, made with love for the school auction.

Wet felting with Pre-K…

I worked with my daughter’s PreK class on a wet felted project for the upcoming school auction. We are creating a felted wall hanging. Each child made a “pebble” using natural alpaca roving decorated with wool yarn and scrap silk pieces. The background was a collaboration using a darker blend of alpaca roving with the same yarn and silk pieces placed in a random linear pattern. The background is as beautiful as each of the pebbles. Most of the pebbles are hand stitched onto the background with a wool/bamboo blend yarn. Three pebbles are suspended from the bottom of the wall hanging by needle felting pieces of colorful wool yarn onto the background and the pebbles.

Wet felting experiments…

My girls and I are playing with wet felting. In these first experiments we used scraps of tulle, yarn, and beads to add color and texture to the roving. Most of the donate roving was a natural cream color, but one bag was filled with pastel pink, blue and purple. My daughters were ecstatic. The process of wet felting is relatively easy but requires letting go of perfection because wetting and rolling and shrinking makes for some surprising outcomes – at least for us amateurs. I’ll be bringing roving into Stella’s Pre-K class to make some wet felted “squares” with the kids. I’m excited to see what they make!

Minimal mouse costume…

My daughter Stella required a mouse costume for a performance of the Ukranian folk tale “The Mitten” at her school, so I created ears and tail for 13 Pre-K’ers. As Stella climbed up over all the other woodland “animals” in the mitten at the end of the play, her ears were jostled off. But she recovered her costume and the play ended in laughter and applause.

Marshmallow shooters for Halloween…

Simple homemade marshmallow shooters were the hit of my daughter’s Halloween party. Unadorned ½” PVC pipe and fittings were inexpensive, easy to put together, and a great party favor. The ensuing marshmallow fight was a great activity before trick-or-treating. But my daughter will tell you that picking up smashed marshmallows around the yard the next morning was not so fun.

Day 302 – Adding a face to the nesting bears…

Day 302 – Taking quality photos of projects is a challenge. The iPhone is a mediocre camera in artificial light late at night. So I replaced last night’s photo with this composite of photos taken outside on this overcast day. Imperfect, but much better. I’m still working on the bears – the faces at least. I’m playing with a few accessories like bows, glasses, and binky. I’d like the accessories to be changeable rather than fixed, but that may add too much complexity to the toy. It may be best to stick with the basic concept of nesting, closures, and numbers 1-5.

From Sketch to Soft Sculpture…


So your kid just drew the cutest little creature, and you are thinking “That would make a great stuffed animal!” Whether for fun, or because you believe you’ve just designed the next Ugly Doll, with a moderate amount of time and skill, you can create your very own plush toy. But just remember that when your work is completed, you may actually prefer to display it high on a shelf rather than hand it over to your kid as a toy.

This fuzzy, pink creature, named Reesy, was inspired by my 3 yr old daughter’s sketch. I scoured the Fashion District in downtown LA for inspiring fabric and notions, choosing a mottled, hot pink, polyester, tassel fabric for the body; blue buttons and white pleather for the eyes; velvet cord and faux fur for the tail; and a polyester glitter spandex fabric for the tongue.

My daughter’s sketch was drawn on a post-it note, so I enlarged it on my copier to be about 12″ in length. This just seemed like the right size to cuddle. Using the sketch as a pattern, I cut out two pieces of fabric for the sides adding a 1/2″ seam allowance, and then cut a long 3″ wide strip that I sewed from mouth to tail to give the creature more girth. I also created a 3″ wide bottom piece with legs to match the two sides. I added the eyes before sewing the sides to the middle strip. I sewed a small piece of 1/2″ batting between the two pieces of the glitter spandex for the tongue and then stitched a strip down the middle to make it more like a tongue. This was a creative interpretation of the line extending down from the head in my daughter’s sketch. I have to admit that my daughter hates that Reesy is always sticking out her tongue, but she loves the furry tail; both are examples of artistic license.

If you are inspired to make a plush creature from your child’s sketch, but are not very skilled with sewing, you can instead create a simple pillow by cutting out two copies of the sketch in your chosen fabric, sewing it around the perimeter (leaving a 2″ hole for stuffing,) stuffing it like a pillow shape, and hand stitching the hole closed. Be sure to add at least 1/2″ for the seam allowance. And the easiest possible option for making a plush from your child’s drawing? Just photocopy the sketch onto inkjet-ready fabric; cut it out using at least a 1/2″ seam allowance; sew it up, leaving a hole for stuffing; fill it with your chosen stuffing (anything from organic cotton, wool, polyester fiber fill, or fabric scraps) and hand stitch to close the hole.

Now you have all the inspiration you need for a perfect gift for a young one (or the young at heart.)