Saturday, May 28, 2011

Stuffies Rock!

I love stuffies. They are quick, cool, and nearly free. And if you make them small enough, they can be made into functional art. At times I make something (like amigurumi, for instance) and think to myself, "It's cute, but what am I going to do with it?"

Little felt stuffies can be useful for anyone. I'll bet you could use the right stuffie to convert an anti-craft curmudgeon. Stuffies can be made into hair clips, brooches, refrigerator magnets, paperweights (with the right stuffing), Christmas ornaments, or even rear view mirror danglies. You know, if you are into that sort of thing. Which, um...I'm not. If I had something hanging from my rear view mirror I'd probably get distracted by it and run into a cactus. But I do like seeing danglie things sparkling in other peoples cars.

A while back I made my daughter a 1-up mushroom stuffie, hot glued it to a hair clip, and sent her off to school. She came home with a list of girls that needed their own 1-up mushroom hair clips.

This cute little bird stuffie has a pin sewn to the back so that it can be worn on a blouse or lapel. Or backpack. If you don't wear a lot of pins, here's a tip for you: string a silver chain through the pin and wear it as a necklace. (This trick also works with vintage clip-on earrings.)

I have noticed that when I receive things in the mail, the way they are packaged has some impact on how I view the items themselves. I decided to mail this stuffie pin out in a little square box from the recycling bin. The round box was $.99 at our local craft store. I painted it green, stuck on a few little metal scrap booking embellishments and filled it with some colorful notepaper that I had shredded with a pair of my kids' craft scissors. Nearly free, but a great way to improve the impact of this little stuffie pin.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Blankets for Breast Cancer

One of our Kindergarten teachers has cancer.

Teachers share more of their lives these days. They tell little anecdotes about their lives, stories about their pets, and encourage students to watch their favorite sports teams. It creates an environment where the kids trust their teachers enough to really learn from them. It is certainly a different model than learning through fear of authority--wooden ruler knuckle raps and silently threatening paddles leaning against the chalkboard. It also exposes the kids to aspects of life they might not be currently encountering at home.

And now one of the kindergarten teachers has breast cancer.

In the last five years, we've known teachers who have been pregnant during the school year, whose parents have died, who have taken time off to travel to see their college age children compete in national sports events, who have gotten divorced, who have gotten married, and who have sent their kids off to Kindergarten for the first time. And with the exception of the divorce, these events were celebrated (or mourned) openly with the students. Not in a way that took away from studying, but in a way that enhances it. One teacher gives a weekly written language correction test, and the sentences are specific to the children's lives as well as hers: "yesterday my dog goed to the vets offis", "joe is excited to selebrate his birthday nekst weak" Another teacher leads the school cheerleading team after school, and during the day she teaches her young students their most difficult spelling words by creating memorable cheers. Almost four years later, my daughter still chants A-P-P! R-E-C! I-A! T-E! each time she needs to use that word.

And now, one of the kindergarten teachers has breast cancer, and the whole school is rallying around her.

Every Friday, classes compete to see which has the most 'spirit' as evidenced by the most students wearing the school colors or PTO t-shirts. Once in a while, Friday Spirit Day is themed. On Hawaiian day, the students wear luau shirts. On Crazy Hat Day they sweat under the hats they are normally not allowed to wear. In addition to the usual assortment of spirit clothing this year, the PTO ordered pink t-shirts with breast cancer ribbons and the teacher's name printed across the front. And on the Spirit Day dedicated to the Kindergarten teacher, pink shirted boys and girls filled the playground. The principal and his assistant principal stood outside as they always do, directing traffic and manning the crosswalk. And that day, they proudly wore their bright pink shirts.

But while showing spirit in this way replenishes the spirit, teachers' salaries only go so far. And cancer can be expensive.

So this week there was fundraiser at school, and then a rally at a local fast food restaurant, organized by a couple of the room moms, and attended by nearly the whole school. The restaurant donated 20% of the receipts turned in that night. Outside, the parents had set up a raffle booth, face-painting and crafts.
My humble addition to the raffle was a baby tag blanket and a matching toddler blanket. I used a gorgeous embroidered polar fleece and shiny pink satin. (Is it really satin? Probably not, I'm not a consummate enough sewist to know what it's actually called--I'm talking about that silky shiny satiny stuff that looks like the inside of Superman's cape.)

I enjoyed making it--something straightforward, pretty, and simple enough that it didn't require a pattern. And best of all,  it helped raised money for a really great cause.

Today I got an email from one of the organizers. The little girl who won the blanket in the raffle fell asleep with it and her mother snapped a picture. Her mom says that her daughter named the blanket for the teacher and that she likes to sleep with it. I love that! Like a lot of giving, I gained a lot more than I gave with this small project.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Penny Passport: the socially acceptable way to collect good junk

As a young child, I resented the What Little Boys Are Made Of rhyme. "How come," I'd ask, "little boys get to be made of neat stuff like snips and snails and puppy dog tails, but little girls have to be made of dumb old sugar and spice?" Personally, I defied the stereotype. Not in any purposeful way; I was way too young for feminist politics. I just followed my interests. I hung out with the boys in the woods, where we caught salamanders and cut down saplings with contraband hatchets. We dug holes and made fishing poles out of branches and string. My pockets were always full of bits of this and that: fossils, bottle caps and acorns, small pieces of sandstone that were soft enough to use as chalk, interesting candy wrappers, rusty nails, and my pocketknife. There were also tiny twigs, twisty ties, snail shells, marbles, ribbons, wire and twine.

When I was in college, tomboy was no longer an innocuous label, and I tried to revise my antisocial behavior. But it was a process, and didn't change overnight. At that time, I lived in an apartment near the train tracks. I had no car, so I rode my bike to work, and then to class each day. I had to go over the train tracks. When I had time, and a handful of extra coins (not as often as you might think--I was on the Ramen Noodle Economic Plan), I used to park my bike and wander to the tracks. In the silent pre-dawn, the shadows were long and the rails stood out against the dark rocks. The air was so still that the metallic smell of the rails was noticeable, even on the days when the snow piled up. I would place my coins onto the smooth metal and leave them there. When I came back in the evening, the sun would be setting or have set and the pennies would have been smooshed by the passing trains. They lay glittery and bright in the rocks or the snow, waiting for me to pick them up. I kept them in my pockets as a sort of worry stone.

Nowadays, my pockets hold keys. Maybe a few receipts. Perhaps a Lego or a hair clip, just until I get a chance to put them away. But despite the possibility that I may have finally grown up, I love the smooshed pennies that you can make at touristy places like museums, zoos and amusement parks. Whenever I see a smooshing machine, I make sure to make one...or three. Logically, I can see that it is a total waste of the penny plus the fifty cents it costs to use the machine. But the sentimental part of me loves the thrill of an inexpensive souvenir. And the suppressed magpie inside still loves the shiny stuff. But smooshed pennies no longer inhabit my pockets, and you can only keep so many smooshed pennies in a little pouch before they get too jumbled to enjoy. So how can you display them?

How about a penny passport? You can buy a thick plastic penny passport at some museum gift shops, and they serve their function. But they are hard and pointy and, let's face it, they just aren't very pretty. I seem to have grown into that feminine desire for pretty things, so I wanted something larger and softer. And pretty.

A while back I posted about some tea wallets that I had made from an online tutorial. I brainstormed ways to adapt that process to a penny passport. This is the result.
     Left: Tea Wallet               Right: Penny Passport

Top: Tea Wallet     Bottom: Penny Passport

I did not take pictures during the process, but basically, I increased the length by a little more than double and replaced the tea pockets with small rectangles of vinyl sewn on in a grid. I really struggled with the vinyl, but in the end I was happy with the final product. Let me know in the comments if you would make a penny passport. If people have interest, I would be willing to attempt a tutorial, but that seems like a lot of effort to send it off into the ether if no one would use it!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Fiction vs. Non-fiction

Do you believe in Shrinky-dinks?

I remember being amazed by the world when I was little. Then I grew up and stopped seeing. And then I had children.

For me, one of the best things in life is noticing the miracles that take place around us every day. I love the way children remind us of these things. I used to peer into my little Shrinky-dink oven and watch with my mouth open as the plastic curled and twisted as if it were alive, then relaxed and flattened into a much smaller version of itself.

Children are born with their minds wide open. My youngest is that that age where she is trying to figure out what to believe, and what to doubt. For now, this appears in the form of sorting fiction from reality. "Mommy, is this movie real?" No, guinea pigs cannot talk, even of you give them tiny spy translators. No, you cannot make a house fly by tying a bunch of balloons to it. No, a giant lady is not under the water letting her goldfish children grow arms and legs and visit us on land.

At the same time, this daughter of mine is exploring the world of writing. She asks how to spell words and scribbles little stories into tiny notebooks. 
One Upon a Pon
"Don't you mean p-a-w-n, like in chess?"
"No, Mommy, a Pon, like Upon."

She tells stories in the car and, although they are usually pretty interesting, I do admit to sometimes concentrating on the road and mumbling the occasional 'Mmmm, hmm." Yesterday she was telling a story and said, "Then they came down in a parachute...Mommy, are parachutes real?"
"Woooow!" Her voice was full of awe and appreciation.
"What about jet packs?"
"No, no jet packs." (Although, come to find out I might have been wrong on that one. Ironic that we were having this conversation as a man was jetting over the Grand Canyon.) "But it is true that people used to be able to go to the moon."
"Ha! That's not true!"
"Yes. Yes it is. It happened before I was born, but now we can't do it anymore because our computers are too delicate."
"Mommy, that is not real."
"It is! The first man to walk on the moon was named Neil Armstrong."
"No way. That is not even a real name!"

How could I argue with that?

These kinds of conversations open me up to being able to experience the everyday wonders in our world. We see marvelous, unbelievable things every day and don't even stop to marvel or disbelieve. Airplanes fly past the palm trees and I seldom stop to think--flying vehicles filled with people? Amazing! Water loving palm trees in the middle of the desert? How amazing (and sort of sad, right?) that we've figured out a way to get that much water right where they need it!

Shrinky-dink paper still comes alive as it shrinks, although my current oven is much bigger than the one I used in the '70s. I discovered the idea of making Shrinky-dink rings on etsy. I saw some very cute little rings that I loved. But since etsy is supposed to be all handmade, I thought the seller was stretching the definition of handmade. How could someone possibly print pictures onto plastic rings and call that handmade? It must be done by a big fancy machine. Then it dawned on me...those rings were handmade from Shrinky-dink paper! I googled Shrinky-dink rings and found an awesome tutorial by Planet June. Even though you might be tempted to do without a tutorial--the basic concept is obvious enough to anyone who has ever played with shrink plastic--you might want to look at it anyway. She has some great tips and gives the measurements she uses.

Shrinky-dink paper is something that we keep around the house, (because it is a necessity, that's why!) so it was easy to sit down and make a bunch of tiny rings. My oldest is studying the California gold rush in school right now, so she made a ring with golden nuggets and "49ers" written on it. The baby used rubber stamps to make a duck ring and a dog ring. My son sat this one out. He'd rather read a book about origami yodas than make girly rings out of plastic.

I made the tree ring to go with a polymer clay tree necklace. It was for a swap with the theme 'tree in your pocket'. I kind of botched that one; this is more like trees around your neck and finger, but the person I sent to didn't seem to mind. I suppose she can put these into her pocket of she wants to.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Playdough for Grownups

Instead of giving my children playdough, I like to give them small chunks of polymer clay. The things they make are tiny (good for fine motor skills) and can be baked immediately, then stowed away in their keepsakes collection. And, truth be told, another part of the appeal is that I can sit down and play with them and call it 'crafting'.

These fun little corn and toast pendants were my attempt at kawaii. They are small enough to wear as a necklace. They were gifted to my friend, whose daughter loves kawaii. (Kawaii is the Japanese word for cute. Run an image search on Google if you'd like to see some kawaii items.) I have to admit I can't quite put my finger on exactly what qualifies as kawaii.  If anyone can clarify in the comments section, I'd love to hear from you!

The polymer clay we use at home is Sculpey. It is inexpensive, available in large multicolor sampler packs, immediately ready for use, and soft enough for little hands to form. However, Sculpey tends to hold fingerprints and easily takes on nicks. (Note the fingernail nick in the toast's eye and the small indentations in the mouths on both figures (left by the skewer I used to push the mouths onto the faces).)

Fimo is actually my favorite polymer clay for adult crafting because when swirling colors together, the borders remain sharp. This is especially important when making polymer clay canes. Fimo does not retain as many fingerprints and does not nick as easily. Finally, I love Fimo because it was the first polymer clay I ever used, back when I was an exchange student in Germany. However, Fimo takes some kneading to get it in shape for use and it is a little more difficult to work with because of a general 'crumbliness'. It is also slightly more expensive than Sculpey.

Toast + Corn: True Love Always
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