Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hankie Heaven

My youngest and I ran across an estate sale a while back and met a couple of sisters in their sixties who were selling the crochet, tatting, and embroidery work that their mother had made (along with drifts of other items). I couldn't bring myself to ask the price. If it was a dollar, that would make me sad. If it was a hundred dollars, I wouldn't buy it. But I did have a conversation with the women and mentioned that my children use handkerchiefs instead of tissues. The lady in charge disappeared into the house and came back with an ancient Kraft Caramels box filled with handkerchiefs. She sold 17 hankies, many hand embellished, to my daughter for five dollars. And then she offered her the box as a free bonus.

So here's the question. Do we use the hankies? Yes, we do. They were not doing anybody any good sitting on a shelf in the closet. And every time I wash them or see my children use them, I think of the woman who made them. (The box, on the other hand is displayed in my craft space and will be given back to my daughter when she is old enough to use it carefully.)

I am reminded of Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use", about a woman who has to decide whether to give her family's heirloom quilts to her worldly daughter (who wants to preserve them), or to her just plain hard working daughter who is going to use the quilts. In the end, she gives the quilts to the daughter who is going to put the quilts to everyday use.

Using things in an everyday way, especially handmade items, puts us in touch with the person who made them. It is a kind of intimacy that we have mostly lost in today's world. Although items become worn with use, sometimes we become curious about how they were made, and learn to make them ourselves. If we hide these things away on shelves, they will be forgotten and the art/craft/knowledge to make them can die.

Or not. There is hope. I love that YouTube has such a stash of instructional videos about creating. You can learn how to crochet, knit, tat, lace, and sew. You can figure out how to build a fort for your kids or a backyard wood-fired oven. You can find out how to make the recipes your grandma made when you were a kid. You can also watch endless music videos and Pokemon hacks, as well as prat falls, babies babbling and 911 calls. Just saying, you know, use your video-watching time wisely.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


My little sister has always been a collector of animals. When we were young, she was the one who brought home all the strays. My mother encouraged her, and between the two of them, over the years, they have had almost every legal pet you can think of (I'm sure they'd have brought home tigers and bears if they could have). There have been dogs, cats, hermit crabs, fish and lizards, of course. But also goats, a trio of naughty raccoons whose mother was struck by a car, a miniature horse, snakes, rats, mice, guinea pigs, every kind of amphibian you can think of, from newts to tropical poison dart frogs, crickets, and (of course, you've guessed from the pictures) hedgehogs.

Now my sister is married and taking care of a whole new kind of animal--three little girls. She has slowly reduced her pet inventory over the last ten years until now she has only one lovely Bearded Dragon habitat. The dragons crack me up because two are lovely fat preening creatures, but the third was a 'runt' of sorts that was given to my sister as a free bonus with a feed purchase at the annual Reptile Show. Even with a constant supply of gut-fed crickets and meal worms, the little fellow looks like a pale yellow shadow to his tank mates.

Perhaps because of the reduction of pet inventory, or perhaps just because my nieces share their mother's love of a good collection, the stuffed animal section of the family's home is a wonder to behold. At first I was worried that this tiny hedgie might get thrown into the toy box with the larger stuffed friends, but I should have known better. He has been given a place of honor in my sister's room. I think it reminds her of the hedgehog she had in college.
The woodland creatures theme is popular right now. I have seen a lot of cool hedgehog themed stationery, rubber stamps and stuffies. This little amigurumi is my crocheted contribution to the hedge-mania.

If you have any trouble making him, feel free to send me an email or comment on the post. Some of the steps are difficult to describe and I hope I've done it clearly, but I'd welcome the opportunity to clarify if needed.

Meiphemera Amigurumi Hedgehog
(I use an H or I-hook for this.)

Using brown eyelash yarn, ch3, join
R1: 6sc into hole. (6)
R2: 2sc into each ch around (12)
R3: *sc into first ch, 2sc in next ch* total of 6x (18)
R4: *sc, sc, 2sc* total of 6x (24)
R5: *sc, sc, sc, 2sc* total of 6x (30)
R6: *sc, sc, sc, sc, 2sc* total of 6x (36)
R7: *sc, sc, sc, sc, sc, 2sc* total of 6x (42)
R8: sc around (42)
R 9-12: sc6, ch1, turn

(I use G or H hook)
chain3, join
sc 6 into hole (6)
sc into each ch around (6)
*sc, 2sc* 3x (9)
sc into each ch around (9)
*sc, sc, 2sc* 3x (12)
R 6: sc6, 2sc, sc, 2sc, 2sc, sc, 2sc (16)
R 7: sc6, 2sc, sc, 2sc, sc, 2sc, 2sc, sc, 2sc, sc, 2sc (22)
R 8: sc around (22)
R 9: sc6, *invisible decrease, sc* 5x, sc (14)
R 10-21: sc 6, ch 1, turn

Place safety eyes into the head, being sure that the tummy is at the bottom.
The sewing process is a little different than most amis because of the two different yarns and two different hook sizes. You will not be sewing each chain to the corresponding chain in the next piece. Instead, sew the pieces together as you would any other kind of fabric; line the two pieces up together and sew regardless of chain spacing.

Step 1: sew the end of the 'flap' on the back to the end of the 'flap' on the tummy. Make sure the head is in the correct orientation. The way I do it is sew from the 'wrong' side, making sure that both 'right' sides are on the inside.

((The next parts are difficult to describe with words. I've made a bunch of these guys and never had the foresight to take a picture of this part. Maybe I'll make another to take pics, but in the meantime, bear with me. Basically, you will be starting at the tail, sewing up along one side to the head, sewing the head ONTO THE BACK ITSELF, and then back down the second side to the tail. This may be obvious and intuitive. Feel free to stop reading here if you have no problem visualizing the rest on your own. )))

Step 2: The 'flap' of the back will need to be sewn to the adjacent curve of the shell, so that for the first few stitches, you will sew back fabric to back fabric. When you get to the tummy section of the flap, you will be sewing the tummy fabric to the back fabric. Keep working along the side of the hedgie until you reach the head.

Step 3: Stuff the head only. DO NOT SEW THE EDGE OF THE HEAD TO THE EDGE OF THE BACK. Position the head onto the back and sew the edge of the head through the section of the back that it touches when the head is placed in a natural position.

Step 4: Sew along the second side, back toward the tail. If you've done it just right, you'll be able to sew tummy to back, stuff the hedgie, then sew the back fabric to back fabric. If you've not done it just right, don't worry, the eyelash fabric you've created is very forgiving. Just sew along the side and stuff, lining it up as you go. Once you've finished, roll the hedgie in your hands to adjust his shape, and you're done!

Feel free to add a little necklace or head bow to your hedgie.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Amigurumi Mouse

Mice are busy little creatures, always rushing from place to place, taking care of themselves. When I was sixteen, and in Germany, my host mother was angry with me. She told me, "Du kummerst dich immer." (Or something to the effect--all these years later, my German is worse than rusty.) I wasn't familiar with the verb, so I asked what kummern meant. And she explained that I was always going from place to place taking care of my business. Which, as an independent kid, I would have taken as a compliment if her tone didn't clearly indicate that it was NOT a good thing. She told me (complete with pantomime) I was like a little mouse, scurrying from place to place, getting things done and not asking for help.

I took it to heart, and for a while I tried to ask for help when I should.

As an adult, I know that I'm not always successful--I tend to assume people are too busy with their own lives to worry about mine, and so I just kummern mich and get what I want done, done. Or, sometimes, not done. I have had this conversation with a friend who is the same way. I've said, "But I want to do this favor for you--I know you need it." But for some of us, it is hard to admit when we need help. And to this day when I see a mouse, I am reminded to slow down.

Amigurumi Mouse Pattern:

ch3 join with slst. slst
Row 1: 6sc into center (6)
Row 2: sc, inc around (9)
Row 3: sc around (9)
Row 4: 2sc, inc around (12)
Row 5: sc around (12)
Row 6: 2sc, inc around (16)
Row 7: sc around (16)
Row 8: sc *2sc, inc* around (21)
Row 9-11: sc around (21)
Add eyes.
Row 12-end: 4sc, invisible dec-->around until closed. (Stuff mouse before closing completely.) Do not tie off. Continue by making tail.
Tail: ch 17. sc into 2nd ch from hook. sc back to body. Tie off. Weave in ends.

Ears: Begin with ch3 join with slst
Row 1: 6sc into ring (6)
Row 2: inc around (12)
Row 3: sc, inc around (18)
Tie off, leaving a long tail. Fold ear in half, then sew onto stuffed mouse.

Whiskers: Use embroidery floss to sew on whiskers. (One strand of embroidery floss=6whiskers)

My son asked me for a grey mouse with no ears and no whiskers--it looks just like a tadpole!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hodge Podge Inspiration Box

We are back home and back to the craziness of school and swim lessons and--with a teenage exchange student visiting us for the year--trips to the mall. I love to tell this story about my youngest, a cracking whip of a child who could spell 'hatched' and 'create' in preschool. (Not that I taught her anything.) We needed to make a trip to the mall for some reason or other, and the four year old who could define photosynthesis asked, "Mommy, what is a mall?" So with a teenager in the house and my oldest beginning to embrace the marketer-driven 'tween' stage, we have entered a new phase of life: malls, the right shoes, and blingy t-shirts. It is going to be fun!

While my oldest was off at school one day this week, I went into her room and cleaned it top to bottom--something I have been threatening to do for a few months. I swept and dusted, wiped the walls, and put in some new shelves with baskets for her felting and sewing supplies. Now everything is reorganized and boxed and easy to get to. Most importantly, now it is easy to put things away when done. In the process of cleaning,  I found some missing crafty items, a lifetime supply of pencils and many many little knick knacks. What else was there to do with them than make an Insiration Box?

I also put aside a lot of items to donate to Goodwill.

I don't want my oldest losing something next month and then accusing me of giving it away. And I, um...also don't want her to end up on one of those hoarding shows in the future saying, "It all started in fifth grade when my mom cleaned my room and threw everything away." (People who collect too much stuff usually tend to have a story like that, right? But I always wonder if it is a chicken-or-the-egg kind of issue. Do they collect because they lost everything, or did they care about and remember the loss more because of latent tendencies to collect?) The items that I had set aside for the donation box were in a huge container outside her room, so I 'gave her ownership'  by asking her to take the things and put them into bags. That way she would be able to see what she was getting rid of.  She was permitted to rescue two things to give to friends or her sibs and five things to keep, provided she found a home for them in her room. She only kept two. Whew! That was a relief to me.

The last few weeks have been a lot like this re-purposed Valentine box. You know, full of lovely treasures, but chaotic at the same time. Luckily, we still manage to squeeze in some creative projects here and there. But when we run out of ideas, an Inspiration Box like this is a great way to brainstorm. The juxtaposition of objects makes me think about things in a new way: "I love the way the vintage blue and white ribbon looks next to the chunk of turquoise. How could I use them together?"

In honor of the hodgepodge of items in the box, here are a few knick knacky paragraphs about things going around in the chaos:

  • Mad Libs periodically take over our home. My son will walk around with a pencil asking the rest of us, "Adjective? Can somebody please give me an adjective?" Out of desperation last year he taught his little sister the parts of speech. By now she is an expert and can rattle off adjectives like a pro. On the downside, she has also learned that the word 'poop' can be a noun or a verb. With a little creativity she has also figured out how to make it into an adjective (poopy), adverb (poopily) and an exclamation (Oh poop!) Her brother has been instructed to ask for more appropriate words.
  • I read to each kiddo every night. I am reading Redwall to my oldest. My youngest and I just finished the third Ga'Hoole book. My son and I finally finished the last book in the Fablehaven series and were both disappointed that the action and humor-packed series closed with a sappy romantic ending.
  • I bought a game called "My Math Trainer" for the ds. It is awesome for practicing very basic math facts. My kiddos are quite resistant to running through flash cards. This game is like flash cards, but in video game format. The single game cassette can be wi-fied to up to 16 other ds systems at a time, then provides a series of math problems while it tracks who finishes first. So the kids sit in a circle and have contests with their math facts. (I'm sure they'd prefer to play Pokemon in a heartbeat, but when they've used up their allotted video game time, I let them have some extra time for math. You know, they'll do anything to stay on those little systems. Including math.)

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