Monday, July 28, 2008

What's In A Box?

Behold the humble cardboard box - our house is full of these,
and today I am taking a break from sewing to extol its virtues
as a craft medium.

Emily loves playing post office. After a trip to the Children's
Museum a couple of years ago, she wanted to recreate the
experience of sorting and delivering letters. Over the ensuing
months, we collected various accessories (scroll down) to
help her do just that - a small mail bag, re-used envelopes,
square stickers for stamps, rectangular stickers for address labels,
and a random coat or two for her uniform. This weekend, watching
her and Jenna make a multitude of letters, an idea formed in my head
that I couldn't get out. So while they were napping, I found a large
cardboard box that once contained diapers and made this mailbox

The girls were thrilled - Jenna mostly because it was
something else in she could use her markers on.

We also collected all the floating stationery into a sort
of mail kit: a box of envelopes, hand-drawn postcards,
and plain white labels of different sizes for home-made
address labels (just names for now) and colorful stamps.
They prefer to enclose entire drawings in their envelopes
to text, which is just as well since no one can read
their letters anyway.

and after these letters are put into the mailbox, collected and
sorted, they go (theoretically) into individual mailboxes like these:

These were made last year, when Jenna was a bald baby
and Kate wasn't yet born. We used whichever flat boxes
were lying around in the house at the time - Kleenex boxes
and muffin mix boxes, for instance - and wrapped them with tissue
paper, because I hadn't gotten round to buying construction paper
then. Adding faces made it easier for Emily to identify family
members. Eventually we will add Kate's face and change Jenna's
to avoid mixing up the babies. I later found another mailbox
design here which was faster to make. Smart.

And here's a cardboard mailbox with a flag of the sort
we have for our house. This was our maildrop for a long time,
so Emily would put all her stamped envelopes here to be picked
up by the "mailman". Now with the new mailbox made this
weekend, this one might be out of a job.

The possibilities are endless, really, with cardboard boxes.
You make them, the kids play with them, and when they
outgrow them or they disintegrate, you throw them away.
Here's a collection of things that I made in response to the girls'
different pretend-play themes over the few years we've lived here.

Small kennel made out of a diaper wipes box.

Guitar made of miscellaneous cardboard and rubber bands.
We had just moved into our house and my real guitar was
being shipped with our other possessions. One of Emily's (then 1)
first words was "guitar". With all the cardboard lying around
after moving and time on my hands in the winter, I made the
first of the cardboard toys. Sadly, this guitar eventually
fell apart so we threw it away.

. The mast is a PVC pipe - we thought it was probably sturdier.

. The idea came from an old issue of Family Fun magazine -
paper plates for burners, inexpensive plastic knobs from a
hardware store so they actually turn, and the inner cardboard tube
of a paper towel roll for the door handle. The design had to be
tweaked slightly to allow for heavy-duty baking - the one in
the magazine had a simpler door that stayed shut by friction
because it fit exactly in the opening. I added an inner frame
with velcro (tried magnets but they didn't work as well)
for smoother opening and closing. I couldn't find a link to the
original oven at the Family Fun site, but here's a link to their
very neat kitchen in a box.

Puppet stage
with fabric curtains sliding on an
internal wooden rod with small circular rings.
Jenna has been at it with her markers, too, decorating.

Castle, made out of a packing box for glass tumblers
from Ikea. The turrets/towers are the inner tubes of
paper towels topped with cardboard cones. The entire
thing is covered with aluminum foil except for the drawbridge.
Emily decorated it with adhesive jewels and stuck in the flags.
This was a little fancier than the other cardboard playthings
because it was the centerpiece for Emily's princess party and we
wedged a disposable baking tray inside it to hold her princess cookies.

Donut Shop/Candy Emporium/General Store,
made out of a large freezer box. I cut several windows
and a skylight in the roof to brighten the interior but we
still needed one of those push-on-push-off night lights.
Anyone know where to get a little battery-powered
kerosene/camping lantern?

There's a cardboard shelf just under the display window
for stocking jars of play candy, foam lollipops or sock donuts,
depending on whether Emily feels like selling sweets

or donuts (yes, she does deliveries, too).

Some of these toys have seen better days, surely.
Some have been decorated to death. And some, like this
donut house, is a work in progress. I recently added
the floor to give it more stability. Sometime soon I want to
have the kids paint the outside with some waterproof paint
(and markers, no doubt) . And turn, with chalkboard paint
(most craft stores will have tins of these) an area or two
(like where the donut shop sign is now) into chalkboards
for the kids to write the store name or the daily menu.
Must get to it before winter.

Hopefully this post has given you some ideas of things to do
with the humble cardboard box. The hardest part for me
is sequencing in my head - you know, determining which part
to attach or cut before which - very much like sewing, actually.
All you need are these - scissors (utility scissors work best),
craft knife/utility knife/box cutter, wide masking tape and glue.
UHU glue is my very favorite craft glue - dries clear in seconds,
will not cause bodily harm like superglue, needs no electricity
and unlike white glue, actually works.

As a child, one of my favorite things to play with was a roll
of Scotch tape, with which I'd assemble all sorts of things
around the house, including my own broken eyeglasses.
There was nothing Scotch tape couldn't fix or make.
And mum and dad liked to push their limits and make things
other people had written off as impossible or just not worth
the effort. I make stuff with cardboard now sometimes to push
my own limits, occasionally because it's easier to make something
than go scouting in stores or online for it, often because it's
daylight robbery what some places charge for similar toys in plastic,
largely for pure fun, but mostly so that the kids get used to the idea
that they can make anything if they want to.

*Edited to add this link to a much later post on more cardboard 
ideas (and links to other people's cardboard constructions)
and this even newer tutorial on How To Work With Cardboard, 
with links to 40 cardboard projects I've done since.

Updated 2019 to add: in response to many requests for instructions to make the cardboard mailchute, there is now a 2-in-1 pattern you can purchase here. Included are instructions to make that mailchute as well as a fabric mailbag for mail carrier/post office pretend play. Happy making!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Summer Dresses Part 2

The last of the pairs of spaghetti-strap shirred sundresses,
finished today. The mass-producing ends here.
Next week - a new pattern, or else, it's back to the bibs.

When we moved to our own house, mum gave me
almost all the ric-rac trims that she'd had from
before I was even born. Since then I've added some
of my own, like the one I used on today's dresses

but they are nothing like the subtle old vintage ones
from mum's (and grandma's before her) collection.
Two years ago when I was sewing these soft blocks/
cubes for baby gifts, I made this time-consuming version.

When I first began sewing people clothes - I must have
been 13? 14? - I wanted nothing to do with lace, ric-rac
trims or anything feminine like that. Those were for the dolls.
For real people (i.e. me), it was batik, ikat or nothing.
They say motherhood changes a person - don't I know it.
I shudder to think what I'd be sewing if I had boys.

Summer Dresses

Finished another pair of summer dresses today.
Different fabric, but same style as the first pair which
I posted pictures of here. The point of the summer dresses
is not to create a whole line of varied styles but to
mass-produce as many as I can before the summer is over.
No point wearing spaghetti-strap anythings in the winter,
I say. I have fabric to make just one more pair of these
simple dresses before finally moving on to a different pattern.
And by then it will be Halloween and I'll need to
bring out the fleece and make costumes instead!

An attempt at variation:

The highlight of my short sewing hour* this afternoon
was finally producing a decent blind stitch.
Sheer laziness was the impetus. I mean, I'd known
for a long time that the sewing machine was capable of it
and today, faced with the choice between old-fashioned
slip-hemming and a self-tutorial/experimenting, I chose the latter.
Optimistic but sadly naive - several wasted pieces of fabric
later, I gave in, muttering, and unearthed the manual.
Later I found a video tutorial here. Bah.

*Note: I sewed for an hour today but of course the dresses
were begun two days earlier. I hardly ever start and finish anything
on the same day anymore. Except maybe eating.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Soaps and Scrubs

Two years ago I was part of a little circle of ladies from church 
who met monthly to do homemaking projects. We started out 
doing more conventional stuff - trading recipes and organizing tips 
and even a theoretical session on sewing and darning. 
One member, Kris, turned out to be particularly talented and 
accomplished in other ways too - organic farmer, soap maker 
and general crafty person who was always experimenting 
and turning her hobby into a side business. 
During the first winter of our group's existence, we made soaps
 - all her own recipes, fine-tuned over many, many batches 
that she made as gifts and on consignment. She was nice enough 
to not only lug all her ingredients (huge tubs of oils and lye) 
to one of our homes to make the soap but also let us wrap 
the end-products ourselves to give away to friends for Christmas
 as if we had singlehandedly made them. 
Her original packaging is much nicer, of course.

I gave away only some. I still have a few bars in storage that I am 
hoarding and savoring because they are soooooo good and smell divine.

The second winter we made salt scrubs. 
Again, Kris lugged all the ingredients to that same friend's kitchen 
where we'd made the soaps and we had a sort of spa evening. 

The little purple dots are jojoba spheres which, apart from 
obvious aesthetic value, also add a moisturizing quality to the scrub. 
There are many recipes on the internet and most are so simple 
that it's baffling why a person would spend so much money at 
a spa getting a scrub. The recipe for this scrub was from Anitra Brown 
and I thought I'd include it here:
  • Half cup oil (we used olive oil, jojoba, grapeseed, even canola!)
  • 1 cup salt (we used sea salt, regular table salt and whichever type of salt we could find in our friend's kitchen when our original supply ran out - the coarser the grain, the coarser and more exfoliating the scrub, of course).
  • 5 drops essential oil
      Mix the oil and the salt in a bowl. 
      Add the essential oil and combine well.

It can be used immediately but we wanted a takeaway 
so we spooned the scrub into these little plastic wide-mouthed 
cosmetic jars that Kris brought. And we wanted it to look fancy, 
so we added some jojoba spheres. 

There isn't a special store to buy the jars, but Kris got hers online 
here, where she also buys all her soap-making and other supplies. 

Note: When I visited Singapore earlier this year, I had thought of 
bringing little jars and the essential oils and raiding mum's kitchen 
for the other ingredients, and making some for you guys 
(the ones who got the soaps last year). But the thought 
of the luggage reeking of bergamot and lavender because of leaks 
made me change my mind. Now you can make your own 
- and if you do, write and tell me how it went!

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Bib Lady

Finally, a post about sewing, which is my main crafting mode nowadays.
I am addicted to sewing bibs. Since I had my first child,
I've been sewing them - first for my own kids, and then,
as I amassed so many that I couldn't possibly use them all,
for friends. I've sold them to family for gifts for their friends
and I've sold them at a craft fair. It was at this craft fair that
I earned The Bib Lady nickname - it wasn't very widely used
but it was enough for me to think seriously about joining a
support group for bibaholics.

Here are two types of bibs - drool bibs for the younger infant
and regular meal bibs for the older child.

I made the drool bibs with miscellaneous fabric from my remnant box
- terry cloth on the back and knit in the front. And whatever bias tape
I had on hand which explains the slightly strange color combinations.
I've only made about 10 of these little bibs, and mainly to force myself
to embrace some variety

because my main bib obsession is really quite extreme -
I haven't dared count but I've made at least 200.
I cannot stop. I don't know how. Oh, I've tried.
Each time I shop for fabric (ostensibly for other projects)
I tell myself even before entering the store, "No more flannel.
No more bibs. We don't need any more bibs." and always
I leave with more bib fabric. They are filler projects between
the bigger or more time-consuming things I'm working on -
because they are so easy to make. And it's almost comforting
to know that when I'm in a sewing lull, there is always that
little stack of cut bib shapes to work on until something
exciting comes along again.

Boy bibs
Girl bibs I - flowers

Girl bibs II - garden theme

Girl bibs III - spots

Girl bibs IV - defies categorization

And yes, I have at least two more pieces of fabric 
for the next batch of bibs.

What Happens to the Neck Ovals

I've always found it hard to throw away fabric remnants 
so here's what happened to those little ovals that were cut out 
from the necklines of the bibs - they get a second life as cut-out cards. 
I usually make a big batch of them after cutting out an even 
bigger batch of bibs and print "Happy Birthday", "Happy Easter", 
"Thank You" or whatever greeting fits the occasion on the front 
just under the cut-out window of fabric.

Foam Food

There's been a lot of gorgeous felt food out there recently 
and I've spent many happy evenings marveling at the talent 
and creativity of the people who've made them. 
Some of my favorite faux food restaurants are here and here
And here's a page worth looking at for some jaw-dropping inspiration.
Scrumptious. Someday, I'm thinking, when I have the time, 
I might cook some up myself, hopefully before the kids become teenagers.

In the meantime, the girls and I made foam food. 
I cannot sufficiently extol the virtues of foam stickies 
and foam sheets - my eldest daughter is only just turning 4 
and it is probably the perfect crafting material for both her 
and her almost-two-year-old little sister, at least until they 
discover fabric. They're colorful, slightly 3D, mostly self-adhesive 
and mess-free. Today we spent a morning indoors 
and on the spur of the moment made 



and maki (sushi rolls) for supper. 
Cow, do you recognize those chopsticks?

Emily made her own popsicle stick

which reminded me of the collection of lollipops we'd made 
some months ago for her Donut House and Candy Store 
(will post pictures some other time).

The kids loved peeling the backing paper off and sticking 
the foam shapes together. And I liked that they could assemble 
the food with me -like putting the toppings on the pizza - 
as if it were real food in the kitchen but without the mess!