Thursday, June 25, 2015

Menagerie Pattern Early Next Week!

We're almost there, friends! I am sooooooooooooooooo excited!

In the meantime, as promised, here are some screenshots of pertinent pages of the pattern, for your preview (and preparation) pleasure.

First, the introduction section containing information on equipment and skills and material that you need to tackle the projects. 

Next are the index/contents pages, so you know what you'll be getting, and how it's all organized, and why it isn't just "a bundle of seventeen individual animal patterns". Remember, this is designed like a softie primer, meaning the main aim is not just to provide you with templates for making x number of identically-shaped animals but to teach you how to design standard animal features (limbs, tails, ears, etc.) that you can use for other softies in your life, not just the ones of Menagerie. 

So, summary:

1 Menagerie is a 92-page pattern, including the cover page. Of these, 

  • 14 are template pages,
  • 22 are text-and-color-photo pages of foundational instructions that teach you about making softies and softie parts in general, and
  • 48 are text-and-color-photo pages of instructions for specific animals
  • 4 are diagram pages for assembling, adapting and varying the templates.

2 The Squid is included. The Fish is partly included. This means that there are instructions for adapting the base template to make the Fish templates, and there are instructions for making the fish lips, but there are NO actual fish templates for fish fins and fish eyes and so on.

3 You will need a program for reading pdf documents as well as a printer for printing out templates. You also need to know how to set your printer to print things at 100%. This means that if your printer has the bad habit of choosing its favorite scale (they call it "print to fit") as its auto-setting, you need to know how to override that and force it to obey you and give you what YOU want. This is easier than it sounds - all printer settings have this function, and it's usually as simple as clicking one of the options in a menu on your computer screen, but not all of us know where to find that and don't realize that printers can sometimes be sneaky behind our backs and try to get away with murder unless you show them who's boss.

How do you know if your printer is evil? Answer: if you know exactly what I'm talking about in this paragraph, you're in control. If you're like, "What? There are different sizes? I thought I just hit 'print' and the printer does everything," you probably need to ask someone for help.

Monday, June 22, 2015

More Zippered Bags

That Time Warp barkcloth is just the most beautiful thing.

And the marriage of Time Warp and vinyl? 
My happiness knows no bounds.

Now that Kate's Minecraft party is behind us, I am sewing bags again.

This one was inspired by a drum.

The straps work for slinging this bag from shoulders,

or for holding by hand,

or hanging on arms.

There are two zippers - the first is around the lid, of which I'll show you more pictures another day, and the second is in the base, so that the entire bag folds flat.

When we meet this bag again, we'll be learning how to do a full lining with hidden seam allowances (without cheating by binding) on BOTH the top and bottom rims of a tote, plus a zippered cover. Technically challenging, but so much better-looking results, and therefore worth learning.

Then there's also this one:

Whom we met in another life as the dubiously-named Craft Bag,

but which has since been given a makeover with a zippered strap. Still not sure what to call it though - I'm leaning towards Trapezium Tote, but that's a mouthful, not to mention controversial, since it seems that people within the US and without can't seem to agree on what exactly a trapezium is. 

Or maybe we should call it The Controversial Carry-all.
Or not.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Stitches Resource and Menagerie Update

A Menagerie update at last! 

In preparation for the launch of Menagerie, that softie megapattern that I've been working on since forever (actually, just March, but it feels like millenia), I thought I'd share a printable for various hand stitches. 

Many of them are very common hand-embroidery stitches, and some are non-embellishing but useful for closures and gathering and suchlike. I thought of adding this sheet to the pattern itself, then decided to put it here so we can all refer to it when sewing softies in general, and not just the softies of Menagerie. Feel free to pin it, print it out and share it, or link to it from your own blogs and websites. But do NOT re-source it from your own site without my permission i.e. do not upload the file to your own page so people can "conveniently" download it from there as if it were your own resource. That is beyond uncool. I only say this because it has happened before and, at the time, the nice side of me wanted to give people the benefit of the doubt that maybe they didn't know it was intellectual property theft. So now everyone knows and we can move on, yes?

Next, an update on Menagerie - we're close enough to its release that I am going to say it will happen sometime in the next week or two, barring unforseen disasters. The testing lab has completed the laborious read-through of the entire pattern, based on which results I've made the necessary tweaks in the final draft. Now what remains is feedback from the actual sewing process. It shouldn't take as long as it sounds - this part is really, really fast compared to ploughing through pages and pages of text and instruction and twiddling with layout and editing and whatnot.

I'm very excited to be able to finally share Menagerie with you! Thank you all for your patience and enthusiasm - I hope that when you finally hold it in your (virtual) hands, you will both enjoy it and understand why it took so long to get done. 

If you're new to Menagerie, you can go to my sidebar and click on the Menagerie tag and view all its animals. And yes, the Squid is in it; don't worry if you don't see it on the cover - it was a last-minute addition.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Minecraft Part: Chests

This is a Minecraft Chest:

It's for storing a player's inventory (or stash, for us fabric-hoarding crafting people)

We made cardboard ones for the party

They were very easy - I made 15 in about 3 hours (with lunch in between).

Here's how:

Start with a rectangle that's made of 6 squares. Each square will be one face of the chest. Our chests were 6" x 6" x 6" so our rectangle was 12" x 18".

Cut the rectangle apart like this, into two equal halves.

Score and fold each half along the dividing lines.

Hot-glue edge-to-edge to make a closed cube.

Cut a line 1-1/2" down from the top face, along three adjoining side faces, as shown, to separate the top portion into a lid. 

Lightly score a line 1-1/2" from the top face on the fourth adjoining face. The lid will bend along this line as a natural hinge.

Left as is, the box will not close completely, and stay closed. We need to add an inner layer around the open rim for friction. To do this, cut a strip of cardboard (ours was about 1" wide) long enough to go around almost three complete faces. Ours was about 16"-17". Fold it into three sections, making sure it fits snugly along the inner surface of the box.

Hot glue it on the inner surface of the box so that about 1/2" of it protrudes above the cut edge.

Here is our pile of finished boxes.

All their lids stay shut.

The girls and I then painted the edges of our boxes in iconic Minecraft style, and added a fake catch. This was leftover bits of foam board painted silver and glued to the lid.

The catch, in addition to being decorative, provided some grip for lifting and lowering the lid.

Here is the finished Chest,

in multiples.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Minecraft Party: Trading With Villagers

Villagers are the grunty and passive indigenous people (well, sort of people) of the Minecraft world. There are different kinds of Villagers of both baby and adult variations and everything, but their real relevance to our Minecraft party is their capacity for barter. 

Villagers will trade valuable things for emeralds. Again, another bizarre conversation was spawned by my inquiring into how this trading system worked.

Kid: You just trade!

Me: Yes, but how does it work? Do the Villagers have a basket of goodies that they show you and you pick out what you want and ask them how many emeralds they want for it or what?

Kid: They only want one emerald.

Other Kid: But each Villager trades different things!

Other Other Kid: And each Villager trades only one thing. It depends on what job they have. 

Me: Okaaaay. And so you just hold out your emerald and they give you, say, a fish?

Kid: No, you right-click to see what they have available.

Me: Er, we can't right-click at a party.

Other Kid: Oh, right! But there's a menu that appears when you right-click. . . 

Kid (in despair): And the menu tells you what the Villager has!

(I tear my hair).

Other-Other-Kid: I know! We'll make a paper sign!

Thank heavens somebody had the sense to improvise.

We also made Villager heads - the children's idea. They reminded me multiple times that the Villagers had extra-long noses. They then painted the faces and I cut out eye slits.

I also cut shoulder arches so the box masks could rest on the shoulders of the actors.

During the party, the kids went to each Villager, held out their emerald and received something in exchange:

Perler bead swords that the girls made on rainy afternoons in the weeks leading up to the party,

and which we turned into keychains for hanging on backpacks;

and a grass block containing a Minecraft mini-figure.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Minecraft Party: Emerald Ores

This how to make those emerald ores from Kate's Minecraft Party

Very easy. First, you need a recipe for a dry and crumbly confection. I brainstormed with my mother-in-law and she suggested cornbread. Because it's really easy to make bad, dried-out cornbread, even by accident, right? 

You can make yours from scratch, but we used a box mix. This one was 52 cents a box. 

I made some modifications:
  1. I substituted plain water for the milk (same amount) called for in the recipe. No point wasting good milk - it's just liquid, afterall, that we want.
  2. I added a heaped tsp of baking powder. The amount is not important.
  3. I added black food coloring.
  4. I baked it for twice as long as recommended, to make sure it got really hard and dry.
  5. I added emeralds (of course).

The emeralds in question are these glass gems from the dollar store. I thought (briefly) about using the more exciting-looking plastic jewels you can buy in craft stores but wasn't sure they'd hold up in the baking process. 

Let's make those ores!

First, throw the gems in a container and spray them with cooking spray, then toss to coat evenly. This will prevent the cornbread from sticking to them and instead crumble off cleanly later.

Line baking trays with parchment paper. Don't bother to grease; the parchment paper will be sufficient, and has the double plus of allowing you to lift everything out easily later to cut apart. Mix the batter, adding as much food coloring as you like. I used 8" x 8" trays - one per box of mix.

Leave for 15 minutes or so to let the rising agents (the added baking powder and whatever else is in the mix originally) work. The batter will puff up slightly. Preheat your oven to whatever temperature is indicated in the box instructions.

Press gems into the puffed-up batter. 

I pressed mine under the surface, but not all the way to the bottom of the pan. 

Then I smoothed the batter over them to hide them.

The upside of using a real edible (except for the gems) recipe is it all smells very good when baking! And if the guests are daft enough to somehow get it in their mouths, there's no harm done.

You can bake yours as long as you like to ensure everything dries out, but I prefered baking it for just twice the recommended time, then cooling slightly and cutting into squares (each containing one gem) while not too brittle.

Then I laid the squares out to dry completely, their individual edges exposed for greater drying surface area.

We left ours to dry overnight. After that, we found that one batch was still somewhat "chewy", so we baked that batch (in separate squares as is) for another half hour or so. 

On the day itself, the kids got a bucket and went to mine ores. They crumbled away the cornbread coating

 and extracted the gems,

then traded them with the Villagers for other treasures.