Thursday, March 21, 2019

Pop Pouches!

Happy spring, friends!

How are y'alls? I feel like this winter was especially hard for me. I suspect I say that every year but this year, polar vortex aside, we also had kittens. Loads of fun, and we all love them to death, but I'll be honest: they are a bigger life change than I could've have ever anticipated. I miss the quiet solitude of my pre-cat life, the freedom to come and go as I pleased from room to room without thinking about whether a door was open or shut, or if there were raw meat sitting mid-prep on the cutting board when I walked away to answer the phone. Its a little like when I was a mother of infants and toddlers: the distracted mind, the state of constant vigilance, the feeling of someone perpetually underfoot, the irrational desire to slow down and coo and pet and cuddle even when I'm trying to finish Other Tasks. 

Or maybe I'd just been missing the sun. A person just doesn't move from the equator to the northern tundra without some kind of catastrophic physiological fallout after all. 

Regardless, I decided a fortnight ago that I needed serious reinvention. So I enrolled myself in yoga class (which I'd never done before). And oh, I loved it. I mean, can anything be better than being in a big, bright sunlit room with twenty other people twisted into charming pretzel shapes in their determination to Overcome Winter Malaise? 

I also repainted my sewing room. Which is now in disarray because everything had to be moved out to get the paint on. Who knows when it'll be put back together again, but isn't it funny how that works - sometimes we have to endure the general upheaval to make something new?

And that, friends, is where I am.
I hope those of you in the northern hemisphere are emerging from this frigid season unscathed and with hope, while those in the south are comfortably easing yourselves into one of rest from the fast pace of past months.  Let's celebrate the change, shall we? May the warmth and sunshine (or welcome coolness) bring new inspiration, motivation and mental space to create and make, give and share.

Speaking of sharing, today I am excited to show you what has (miraculously) come out of my own winter season: Pop Pouches!

I've been making them since early last year and never got around to blogging about them. Which seems to happen a lot lately.

My inspiration pencil pouch showed up some years ago on Pinterest. At the time, I'd been collecting ideas for unusual and ingenious pencil cases for my kids who, as you know, adore stationery and are always looking for new and better receptacles to store and transport theirs. My Better Marker Pouch was born out of that search, as was this one. But I was working on other projects at the time so it got shoved under my sewing table (literally and metaphorically) until I could develop a pattern for it. 

Eons went by and then last year, seemingly out of nowhere, I started seeing versions of this pouch in stores like Target and Amazon. Rather utilitarian, factory-made versions, true - but they reminded me of my long-ago intention to hand-make these for my girls. Thus inspired, I finally sat myself down and did.

If haven't seen these pouches before, let's walk through them shall we? To start, they're simple upright pencil cases with a top zipper,

and a side handle for easy carrying or attaching to binders and trapper-keepers with carabiners and clips. 

When unzipped, the pouch opens 

all the way across the top to access the contents.

But here's where it gets fun: when you slide that top section all the way down to the base of the pouch

it turns into a half-height pencil cup - so even easier to access the contents! My kids love any kind of pencil case /stationery receptacle that displays their pens and pencils without having to dig for the ones they want. 

The Better Marker Pouch achieved this too, but I think the Pop Pouch is more elegant to behold and operate, and much easier to make.

When I was drafting the templates and finalizing dimensions, I thought about the kinds of things my kids would store in their Pop Pouches.

Markers, of course. My kids don't use these Crayola markers nearly as much as they used to, but they still do from time to time, and we still have tubs full of them at home.

Depending on high tightly you pack them, you could fit 24-26 in there.

Or about 36 Sharpies.

Color pencils now.

I managed to pack in about 90 before the zipper protested and refused to fully close. Brand new unsharpened pencils, which are taller, will fit in here, too, but you may not get as many as 90 in.

I made a bunch of Pop Pouches and organized my pencils by color! See, this is what winter does to a person.

Let's talk construction details next.

First, these are great stash busters because they don't need a whole lot of fabric to make. The design makes it easy to mix-and match solids and prints.

(Or prints and other prints!)

The handle is also fun to customize. I used coordinating fabric to make some of the handles and twill tape (and other trim) to make the others.

Visible in the next three pictures are interior pockets for simple organization of the contents. The inner layers of the Pop Pouch are ripstop nylon, which is one of my favorite lining fabrics for pouches and bags because it's tough, doesn't fray, doesn't stretch, can be wiped clean and - best of all - contributes hardly any bulk in seams. It is also a "slippery" fabric, which is especially pertinent for the Pop Pouch whose layers need to repeatedly and smoothly slide over each other when in operation. In some pouches, I kept the entire lining one color,

while in others, I coordinated several colors with the outer fabric.

In yet other variations, I swopped out the ripstop nylon for regular quilting cotton to see if that worked. Yes it did - with a little more bulk and friction than ripstop nylon, but otherwise perfectly viable.

I am happy to announce that I have made you a pattern to make these Pop Pouches for yourselves! Which I started LAST YEAR and never got round to finishing. Till now.

And yes, it's ready to launch!

Well, almost.

Before I share it with you, I need to send it through a round of testing. 
Would you be interested in testing this pattern? If so, read on!

Here are some info pages and notes, both for potential testers and eventual pattern users:

Prerequisite skills 
Because the Pop Pouch is essentially a collection of nesting cylinders, its  construction method is more traditional (and thus easier) than the Better Marker Pouch's. If you are used to sewing circular bases to cylindrical bodies, the construction of the Pop Pouch should be familiar to you.

Just two "unusual" materials in this list: the ripstop nylon and template plastic (for the base). That said, it is entirely possible to substitute cotton for the ripstop nylon and any other rigid material for the template plastic. Even the zipper is the regular all-purpose kind although a separating zipper can make a couple of steps even easier. 

Sections on stabilizers and an answer to your (unasked) question: can I make this with my favorite designer quilting cotton on the outside?

Here are the finished dimensions:

Let's talk pattern-testing now. Before submitting your name for consideration for testing the Pop Pouch pattern, please read all the information below so that you know what's required of you.

1 Timeline
About 7-10 days from the time you receive the PDF pattern file (via email), you should have completed your tasks and submitted the feedback to me via email. This means you're committing to the period March 23 2019 to April 3 2019 .

I say "about 7-10 days" because I understand that unforeseen circumstances can mess up even the best intentions, and if that happens to you while you're testing my pattern, don't freak. Life happens. Just let me know as soon as you can and we'll figure something out. 

Finally, if you're working through the pattern and it's frustrating you and you don't think you can go on, stop and let me know, the sooner the better. A frustrating sewing pattern could indicate two things: one, there's something wrong with the pattern and two, it's not compatible with your current level of skill or experience. Either way, you shouldn't be pushing through with it, so talk to me about that, too.

2 Expectations
I am looking for FOUR people to test the Pop Pouch pattern.

In the process of writing and fine-tuning this pattern, I made more than ten prototype Pouches to tweak the height (to fit all the stationery it needed to contain), the relative girths of the various cylinders so they slide over each other while still fitting snugly, the most efficient sequence of construction, and so on.

The pattern you will be testing is the outcome of those experiments and adjustments. But it could still benefit from other pairs of eyes and hands.

Your task is to use the instructions and templates in the pattern to produce a sample prototype in your sewing room, just as I have done in mine. 

With the feedback I receive from your testing experience, I will edit the pattern accordingly: add new explanations where they were inadequate, correct typos I might have missed, instructions and annotations that were wrong or unclear, and address any other issues that are helpful for potential pattern users.

3 Scope of Work
As a pattern tester, you will need to 
  • read the entire pattern (there are 43 pages in total, including 5 pages of templates).
  • follow the instructions in the pattern to make ONE Pop Pouch (although no one's stopping you from making more!)
  • submit feedback to me on various aspects of the pattern itself and your experience in making the Pop Pouch, including the clarity of the instructions (judged by the ease - or difficulty - with which you were able to follow them) and the suitability of the project for your sewing level. I will send you an email with specific questions that you can answer as a guide, or you may write your own feedback in any format you prefer.
  • take photos of your finished projects, including the parts that may have been difficult to construct (you don't need to have a fancy camera - a point-and-shoot or even your phone camera will work just fine).

4   Sewing Level
As a practice, I don't specify a sewing level for my patterns. Instead, the list of Prerequisite Skills should give you an idea of what sewing tasks and knowledge are required. That said, the size of the structures within the Pouch are an additional consideration. Let me explain. This project involves cylinders and bucket-style construction. If you've made a fabric bucket, for instance, the Pop Pouch will feel pretty familiar. Some of those cylinders, however, are smaller than a typical fabric bucket. Which means that even though fabric buckets aren't new to you, working with a narrower cylinder than what you're used to might be. 

5   Compensation
I won't be paying you a fee for testing my pattern. You do, however, get to try out making a Pop Pouch ahead of anyone else and hopefully enjoy both the process and the satisfaction of contributing toward improving the pattern for others. I will send you a free copy of the final version of the pattern when it goes on sale and acknowledge you as a tester in print. Plus you will have my undying gratitude and bragging rights :)

If you are interested in being a tester for the Pop Pouch sewing pattern and are able to complete the tasks within the deadline, please either email me (my email address is in the sidebar of my blog) or leave a comment with the following information:

  1. your name
  2. an email address or some way to contact you
  3. a short description of your sewing experience, particularly if that includes bags and pencil case-style pouches. If you've tested other patterns, feel free to include that, too, although it's not a deciding factor
The plan is to select the four testers and have the pattern in your inbox by this weekend.

I'll pick testers on a first-come-first-served basis, but I'll also be considering your specialized sewing experience in my decision. I'm happy to consider anyone from any country. If you'd really like to be a tester but don't have, say, ripstop nylon, email me and I'll look in my stash to see if I have some I could pop in the post/mail to you. Because of the timeline I'm working with, I can only post/mail out physical materials to US addresses.

Incidentally, I still have the list of names of folks who volunteered to test my last pattern, the Bunny and Carrot pattern. Sewing a Pop Pouch is quite different than sewing a stuffed toy and I didn't want to assume you'd be similarly interested. So rather than contacting each of you, I've put out a new call for testers. Please do respond again if you're game to test something rather different!

Feel free to shoot me any questions you might have. Thanks, all!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Mail Kit

Today we're assembling a mail kit!

Here's a quick catch-up if you've just joined us: we're exploring one of my kids' favorite pretend-play scenarios - the one I call Mailworld. 

Last week we reminisced about the first role-play cardboard toy I made for my girls about a decade ago - a chute-style mailbox. 

Many people have sinced asked for the instructions to make it, so I wrote a pattern for it, 

which also included a fabric mailbag for more play options. 

In the previous post, I shared a tutorial to make solo door-hanger mailboxes

and today, we're completing the roundup with a kit of (play) mail supplies. Some of these are handmade and some are store-bought. There are many places to shop for the items described here, but if you have access to a dollar store, hit that first. You might be surprised by how many mail-relevant things you'll find there.

I started with a wide, flat box that could hold the mailbag without squishing it. This one is from our local Dollar Tree i.e. it cost $1.

Here are the contents of the mail kit I packed for my 2-year-old friend Sam:

Let's talk about each of them.

The mailbag: from the Outgoing Mail pattern, as mentioned earlier, but any messenger bag would work. Another version in this post, for instance, features externally-bound seams. If you would like to pick up a ready-made one, there is one for sale in my Etsy shop here.

The envelopes:  also from the Dollar Tree. I included two sizes for variety.

The paper stack: you could totally splurge on fancy stationery but I used regular letter-size printer paper (white and colored). I cut mine into half so the smaller individual sheets might be more easily handled by a toddler.

The stamps: again from the Dollar Tree. I picked the square stickers over the circular ones (in spite of circles being superior to all other shapes) because they looked most like stamps.


Now, because this kit was for a toddler, I omitted this next item to keep things simpler (and non-messy). However, for an older child, I might include a ink pad and an ink stamp. Older children often observe and remember more details of real-world experiences and thus might enjoy mimicking the date-stamping performed by mail workers (or machines) in the post office. 

Postcards: Postcards are fun to write and send. They don't have to be folded like a letter and inserted into an envelope, and if you draw outline art on them, kids (or you) can even color them. Here are two sets I drew for you guys. The first is generic postcard art: scenes of ridiculously sunny islands, historic lighthouses, random skylines and some exotic building (a Peranakan house modeled after Singapore's architectural culture).

The second is random Scandinavian motifs. Must celebrate the other half of my kids' heritage, I thought.

Here's a printable to download. 

Two pages are front art and the third page is back art. 

You'll need two sheets of card stock for all eight postcards. Print the document out like so:
  • Sheet 1: Print pages 1 and 3 as a double-sided print
  • Sheet 2: Print pages 2 and 3 as a double-sided print

Then cut out the 4 postcards per sheet, color them,

 and fill them out with crazy addressees and messages.

Address labels. Again, something I omitted from Sam's kit, but which older kids might enjoy. You can find these small rectangular labels in any office supplies store or the office supplies aisle in Walmart or Target. Some are plain white, and some are colored. These are roughly 1/2" x 1-3/4" but don't worry about the actual dimensions - you'll know them when you see them because they're sized exactly like typical address labels,

and fit perfectly on an envelope.

Pack everything into the box!

Here's a convenient summary idea list for kit-contents:

  • Mailbag
  • Envelopes
  • Writing paper (stationery)
  • Postcards
  • Stickers
  • Pencils
  • Ink stamps especially date stampers
  • Ink pads
  • Address label stickers
  • Blank square stickers (labels) to make own stamps
  • Markers to decorate Mailbox
  • Bills (see explanation below)
  • Checkbook (see explanation below)

And just off the top of my head, here are some suggestions for play scenarios and teaching ideas:

1 Reading and Writing

Sneak two of the three R's into playtime by having kids practice recognizing and spelling names and simple addresses. Even younger children can recognize letters in a name and the very youngest children can recognize faces (pairing photos is wonderful for this!).

2 Format

Addresses on letters follow a particular format, and kids can learn where on an envelope to place a stamp or address label, and what information must be written (and in which sequence) so that a letter gets delivered to its intended recipient.

3 Sorting and Organizing
Build a post office with cubby holes to sort mail as it is received. When my kids played Mailworld in their older years, they repurposed our Greengrocer cubby holes as a sorting thingy, but you can glue cardboard boxes together to make an easy grid against a wall. Or pick up grid-style cardboard packaging for larger breakables (think wine bottle and vases) at places like Ikea and other home-goods stores.

4 Bills and Checks

It's never too early to introduce kids to real-world credit and debit! Talk with kids about paying to use services and resources, and the different ways to pay (credit, online, paper, for instance). Create fake utility bills, phone bills, medical bills, lawn care bills (you get the idea) that they receive in the post and have to pay.
Then make your own book of checks as a mail-able payment option-  cut sheets of printer paper into check-sized pages and sew them together with a sewing machine. The needle perforations make it easy to tear individual "checks" out of the checkbook.

5  Postcards
Postcards are a fun way to share information about countries that kids have visited, lived in or come from. Discuss what aspects of the country often get featured on postcards - landmarks, buildings, skylines, tourist attractions, food, parks, etc. Even if kids have limited ideas about other countries, they can think about their own neighborhood, city, state or country. It can be fun to imagine (and design) a postcard from their city or neighborhood - what kinds of things would they pick to feature on a postcard and why?

6 Other kinds of flat mail
Talk about the other kinds of things that end up in mailboxes - flyers, adverts, newspapers, for instance. Kids might find it amusing to create some over-the-top junk mail and stuff it into someone's (play) mailbox for comic relief. At the same time, we can think about how effective these flyers and adverts are in accomplishing what they're meant to do. 

7 Packages
Who doesn't love getting a package in the mail? Birthdays were a hoot in Mailworld at our house - the kids were always delivering surprises to each other, not all of which were actual gifts. Don't limit package delivery to just the USPS, either - switch out the regular post office workers for the Brown Truck People (what the kids called UPS for a while) and FedEx guys for a change!

8 Diversify the MailChute
Finally, when you want a change from Mailworld, turn the Mailbox into a library book chute. Or a giant suggestion box. Or a ballot box. Or a magical delivery system that sends food to starving children in war-torn countries. Trust me:  kids have no end to ideas for what to do with a cardboard box, or how to think outside one :)

Happy playing!

P.S. Why yes, I do store my color pencils (some of them, anyway) in Star Wars Campbells' Soup cans.