Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Why I can't stop making little pouches

As anyone with kids knows, days are long when you have little ones to take care of, and at the end of the day, when the kids are - oh joy! - asleep, there's often no time left to do the things you dreamt of doing once the housework was done.

I am constantly torn between two competing needs: the desire to make things versus the need to sleep. Around here it's at least 9pm by the time the kids are asleep, which, on most nights, is when we adults have our dinner. After that there's doing the dishes, getting K's school clothes out for the next day, dealing with household paperwork, folding the washing... And since my sanity is dependent upon the ability to create things, however humble, I often get to bed much later than I should.

Sometimes when I feel the need to be productive but don't want to start (or finish) a bigger sewing project, I like to make little things that can be completed in a short amount of time. That way I have a sense of accomplishment without the late bedtime, and I can enjoy reading a few chapters of my giant Murakami novel in bed without stressing about how late it is. 

Over the past week I've made three of these zipper pouches - two from Noodlehead's fantastic open wide zipper pouch tutorial; one oilcloth one without any particular pattern (just two pieces, boxed corners, unlined. I put a little handle at one end, partly to hide the unattractive part of the zip).

The pouch with the red ribbon was inspired by Vlijtig's medicine bag, which I thought was a cool design. The Red Riding Hood one I have yet to find a use for, and the oilcloth one is a new pencil-case for R because she likes to do drawings at all times of day, whether we're in the car or waiting by the pool while K has his swimming lesson. As you can see below, it has already had an outing. 

(This was a little project R worked on during K's swimming lesson: things that start with G. Naturally, Gaston from 'Beauty and the Beast' was the first one she thought of - in fact, I think he inspired her to ask to do the letter G in the first place). 

My sewing budget is very limited, but little things like this require nothing other than scraps of fabric and a small zip (I always have a few handy in different colours so when the urge to make little zip-up things hits me I can forge ahead immediately!). They are so satisfying to make, and best of all they are quick, so you don't have to sacrifice that other thing on which sanity depends: sleep.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Playgroup art & craft: rainbows

Yesterday afternoon when the rain finally stopped and a little bit of sun came out we ran outside to check for rainbows and were rewarded with this beautiful sight:

I don't find winter a very inspiring theme for our art activities. We don't have snow, so no cute little cotton-ball snowmen for us. Here it's just rain, hail and cold winds. But rainbows - they are lovely at any time of year. 

Using some large sheets of paper cut into semi-circles, our dot paints (bottles of paint with circular sponge tips similar to these) and a colourful assortment of glittery stuff, the children made beautiful rainbows. A cheery art activity for a winter's day.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Give a bear enough rope...

A clear (but cold) day, a giant fluffy bear and a rope hanging from a tree. What could possibly be more fun? Coco the bear had a ball being swung wildly about while we waited outside for my mother-in-law to arrive for her weekly play with R (she was late, so the bear swinging went on... and on... and on...).
When I was little our garden was a magical place full of secret and private spaces: the bamboo forest, inside which an old, broken statue could be found; the shed down the back where Polly and I used to sit on the corrugated iron roof and eat little plums from the overhanging tree; the old, overgrown fishpond whose coloured tiles could still be made out when you pushed away the plants. My friends and I conducted strange rituals, burnt things, buried things, dug up bird skeletons and made fairy hats out of the tiny caps of acorns. In my memory everything was verdant, lush and wild. 

Our garden now is nothing like that wild play-space of my childhood home. It is ordered, neat. Trees and bushes are planted tidily around the edges of the lawn; the driveway is edged with native grasses; there are no secret thickets or overgrown jungles. It's not the way I would have landscaped it myself, but it's the way it came and it does have its own kind of beauty (plus the native plants are easy to care for). Still, I sometimes wish my children could experience the happiness I felt in my old garden and the amazing possibilities that suburban backyard offered me. Which is why it was so especially lovely today to see R playing joyously with the rope hanging off our one climbable tree in the front yard. 

I'm no gardener, but my plans for our outdoor areas are informed by my childhood love of the garden and its many pleasures. I want to plant fruit trees so K and R can feed themselves as they play outside; flowering plants, for their beauty and fragrance (and for collection in bowls and baskets). I hope my children will, in time, discover some secret and special corners of the garden and make them their own.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Playgroup art and craft: faces

Today the children glued cut-out oval shapes onto paper, then chose from a selection of coloured paper shapes to create faces (mostly - some took a more abstract approach). For hair we had feathers or some shredded plastic stuff left over from making Easter baskets earlier this year.

Here is R making her face. She had assembled an interesting outfit from the playgroup box, comprised of a wig (obviously), princess dress and straw hat. Below is her finished artwork, complete with ears placed inside the face so they look more like cheeks:

And since she looked so cute in the red wig I couldn't resist taking another photo as she played with the dollhouse.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

How NOT to make cress creatures, and other gardening disappointments

Well we learn from our mistakes, don't we. Turns out cress is nothing like grass - it doesn't grow in tiny little blades that can push through a stocking, but rather it grows in a curly way with the seed bit up on top of itself til the green leafy part of the cress pushes it off (not the greatest description, I know, but my botanical vocabulary is very limited!). It's obvious now, in the way things so often are in retrospect, that the best way to grow hairies using cress is with an open container such as an eggshell (like this) or a small yogurt container. 

But what I did instead was just to cut a section off the top of the stocking where the cress was trying to escape. Out sprang two heads of lovely, curly hair! Now, after just a week, the creatures are well and truly ready for a haircut.

Another gardening-related failure - the world's most disappointing beetroot crop, harvested today:

How sad - all that lovely soil and devoted watering (too much, perhaps?)  produced these pathetic things with NOT A SINGLE BEETROOT AMONG THEM. These were one of the few winter vegetables I planted. At least the snowpeas have had the decency to provide us with something edible:

And the mixed lettuces have been fantastic, if a little slow growing.

A couple of cos lettuces have endured since summer and are looking deliciously green and crunchy:

I'm so looking forward to springtime when we can plant tomatoes, basil and other wonderful things.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Playgroup art and craft: stamping with assorted objects

Anything involving paint always goes down well at playgroup. Inspired by this activity from laugh, paint, create! I put out some paper plates with a few blobs of spread-out paint on each one; an assortment of things to stamp with (paper cups, plastic containers, plastic forks, our playdough cookie cutters, straws) and some large pieces of paper. I showed the children how they could use these objects to print shapes on the paper, then let them go for it themselves.

I was envisaging beautiful abstract patterns, but as usual R had her own ideas and the very first thing she put down on her paper was this: 

The children were especially interested in the way the colours blended together, producing a rainbow effect. 

The results are quite attractive and I love the circles made by the paper cups. Most importantly for our multi-age playgroup, this activity is stimulating for a range of ages - a toddler can enjoy the simple act of dipping objects in paint and transferring it to paper; a preschooler can observe and discuss the different shapes made, the patterns produced and the effect when colours are combined. I'm sure that my 8-year-old would have enjoyed this too, had I allowed him to have the extra week of school holidays he tried to negotiate this morning!

Apart from washing the cutters and forks, cleaning up was a breeze thanks to the disposable plates. And I had a lovely helper when it came to vacuuming time. Isn't it great when children are still young enough to think that cleaning up is just another fun activity!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

How to make cress creatures

This afternoon I repotted one of M's chilli plants and had just started weeding the stony path in the back yard when a downpour sadly put an end to my gardening efforts. But I still felt like doing something gardening-related so I rounded up the kids and we made some 'hairy harries', aka grass heads - except we used cress seeds, so I'm calling them cress creatures. Years ago we went to a really cool birthday party where making grass heads was one of the activities, and K has fond memories of giving his 'hairy' inventive haircuts.

I had a look at this tutorial before getting started. Cress will give the hair a different look from those pictured in the tutorial, but hopefully the kids will enjoy eating the offcuts. Although K is a ridiculously fussy eater he is generally happy to try green leafy things and often picks random sprigs of herbs from the garden to eat.

These are so easy to make. All you need is some stockings/pantihose, grass or cress seeds, some soil/potting mix, glue and some things to decorate with (we used googly eyes and mouths cut out of felt). I stretched each child's stocking over a cup to make it easier for them to fill, then had them spoon a couple of spoonfuls of cress seeds into the toe. 

Then we filled the stockings with potting mix up to the top of the cup and pressed it in firmly. 

I took the stockings out and made sure the soil was shaped into a nice oval 'head', then tied a knot in each one leaving about 10cm of stocking hanging down (later this acts as a wick to draw water up into the soil). Then came the fun part - decorating. We used white craft glue, which is not waterproof and will probably lead to bits dropping off the heads later. I imagine the glue gun might be more effective but it was a spur-of-the-moment activity and I couldn't be bothered to get it out. I'll see how the craft glue goes and maybe be less lazy next time! Note: see my update before proceeding!

Lastly, I gave the heads a soak to get them started (keeping the decorated bits out of the water) and put each one in a glass of water. I recommend making the heads a little bigger than we did - cricket-ball size would be good - because it was hard to find glasses small enough for them to sit nicely on top of. These little folk just need a nice sunny windowsill to live on and they will soon - we hope - be sprouting lovely locks of edible hair. 

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Oliver + S reversible bucket hat

Finally got around to photographing the bucket hat I made for R (couldn't get any shots of it being worn - uncooperative child!). The pattern (here) is a free download which includes four sizes intended to fit children from 6 months to 8 years. I measured R's head before choosing size medium, but the sizing is small and it is a rather snug fit (and summer still months away!) so next time I will make large. Unusually, the crown is an oval shape, which initially made me think that it had distorted in the conversion from US letter to A4, but in fact that is how it is meant to be and the shape does make the hat fit nicely on the head.

Before making the hat I'd read that some people found it hard to join the sides to the crown and the brim to the sides. I took Liesl's advice from this post on the O + S discussion page and clipped quite far into the seam allowance. 

I love that the hat is reversible, and since the pieces are so small it can easily be made from the little bits of fabric left over after making other things. I'm sure I'll be making another one before summer, but with a broader brim to provide more shade.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

pinata birthday cake

So here I am, already posting about something that is neither art, sewing nor craft. Party food is very dear to my heart. Especially when it doesn't contain sausages or mincemeat. Every year I devote weeks of research to The Cake, which - so far - has been different every time. But I think I've finally found one that will be repeated again and again because it is (a) filled with sweets, and (b) unbelievably easy once you know how to do it. 

Presenting... the pinata cake (source: Women's Weekly Kids' Birthday Cakes Cookbook).

It's a round, iced cake covered with sweets, with a chocolate shell placed on top and decorated with more sweets. I followed the instructions in the book and used a large metal mixing bowl to mold the chocolate shell. After half an hour in the freezer it popped out easily. There's also a tutorial here that gives much the same advice. At K's birthday a couple of weeks ago I gave him a pestle to smash the shell with (couldn't get my hands on a toy hammer, as suggested in the cookbook) and when he did, this is what was inside: 

It was a huge success and Miss R has requested the same for her next birthday. How quickly she has forgotten her own cake, the construction of which just about killed me:

If I were to make the Rapunzel cake again I would NOT use a dolly varden pan (the one I used was lucky to survive. It only avoided being melted down and spat on because it had been loaned to me by a friend). Next time - if there is one - I will use round cakes of different sizes stacked on top of each other and carved into shape. Which will no doubt drive me equally crazy. But however overcooked or crumbly the cake, cover it all with fondant and it will look perfectly fine!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Risotto, and 'Kate's Dress' in corduroy

I'm writing this post while cooking mushroom and pea risotto. Must remember to keep stirring in between typing and uploading pictures... 

I recently bought my first digital pattern, Kate's Dress by Lily Bird Studio. I had seen some beautifully soft orangey-red  fine-wale corduroy in Darn Cheap Fabrics and was looking for an excuse to buy some. For the lining and the piping trim on the yoke I used some fabric I had left over from when I made bias binding for R's Sunday Brunch Jacket a month or so ago. I've also used the same material for a hat (the free Oliver + S bucket hat pattern), so I hope R likes it! 

I'm not the most adventurous or experienced sewer, which is why I have, so far, stuck mostly with Oliver + S patterns (which have reliably clear instructions and plenty of online advice available) or simple things like skirts that I can draft myself. But the Lily Bird dress came together beautifully, and the downloadable pattern was packed with photos detailing every step of the process. The only change I made was adding a lining to the ruffle sleeves because I didn't like the idea of seeing the underside of the corduroy. And - most satisfyingly - I was able to use the fabric-covered buttons (in that same lining fabric again!) that I had made for the Sunday Brunch Jacket but decided against using.

The dress is a little wide in the chest (R is very skinny) and I probably should have checked the measurements before I made it... but it looks nice now and in a year or so it will fit her even better, albeit as a rather short dress. I like the simplicity of the style, the simple but effective yoke detail and the fact that it looks great with a long-sleeved top under. If I make the dress as a winter dress again I will line the entire thing instead of just the bodice to make it that little bit warmer. 

Risotto is ready now, and only a tiny bit stuck to the bottom of the saucepan. Now I'll let it sit for a while as I put R to bed, then Mr thirtynine and I will eat it with a salad. I heartily recommend Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian cookbook, where this recipe comes from. So many of my favourite meals come from this huge book, which has no pictures but is full of fantastic dishes. 


Playgroup art and craft: painting with stencils and rollers

The children at our playgroup range in age from 0-4. Sometimes it's hard to find an art/craft activity that is appropriate for both toddlers and older preschoolers, but anything involving paint is usually a winner.

Last week at playgroup I put out stencils, foam rollers and paint in shallow containers. The children enjoyed rolling out the paint and seemed surprised to see a picture appear, as if by magic, when they lifted up the stencil.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

first post

School holidays - kids fighting constantly. Big computer broken down so we are all sharing one laptop. A thousand bits of lego on the carpet, a play area that is so littered with toys and bits of junk that it's become impossible to walk through it, a desk that is piled high with papers, precious drawings and abandoned 'to do' lists. What better time to start a blog?

As my memory collapses under the strain of several years of child-rearing I've decided to outsource some of my brain's former duties. Pinterest takes care of creative things I might want to remember to do; this blog will take over remembering some of the things I actually do (kind of like the list I keep on the side of the fridge, reminding me of the meals I cook regularly, because otherwise I would forget one now and then and not realise til years later that we used to have tortilla a lot, but then it inexplicably dropped off the menu. And in fact I did forget about tortilla until this very moment, because I have failed to consult the list. This is especially sad because it is one of only three or four things that we all eat. Kids, expect tortilla next Friday night).

First post and already I digress. I was thinking I would devote this blog (a word I really dislike, but what can you do?) to documenting my art and craft activities with my own children and the playgroup session I run, and to keeping a record of the things I have sewn or made (most likely out of cardboard). Maybe I will even convince my son to write the odd guest post, since he once made me set up a blog for him and then failed to post even a single word. And maybe, given paragraph 2 above, I will keep a list of what's cooking in this almost vegetarian household (mostly pasta, mostly with napoletana sauce or some variation thereof). And speaking of which... it's dinnertime. Yes, it's spaghetti napoletana with lots of fresh parsley, accompanied by salad and a glass of something red. Buon appetito!