Sunday, May 15, 2022

From the archives: Chalkboard Easels

Recently, someone left a comment to let me know about a broken link to a tutorial in a guest post. The tutorial was for my chalkboard/dry-erase board easels we'd made for Emily's school party in 2011, and it had been featured on a site called Whip Up. Apparently Whip Up no longer exists, so there was no way to access that tutorial. 

Fortunately, I still had the original email I'd sent to Whip Up containing the tutorial (instructions and photos!) so I'm bringing it home to ikatbag. Here you go:

Hello everyone! My oldest daughter Emily is having a birthday party in September and one of the crafts are these cardboard easels made from pizza boxes. Long ago, I made largish tabletop easels, inspired by Maya's original easels. My girls loved them - we taped paper to them and they went wild with their paint brushes. For the party, I thought mini-easels would be the perfect size for the guests to make and decorate. 

This being a school-themed party, we're making them two-in-one: chalkboard on one side, and dry-erase board on the other. We're also throwing in a homemade eraser and some dry-erase markers and chalk that store inside the easel when it's closed. 

Because I couldn't find 14 small pizza boxes, I had to cut and assemble my own boxes. Obviously, you don't have to make yours from scratch - it should be easy enough to save one pizza box from a meal!

You will need:
  • One small pizza box (ours was a 10")
  • Extra piece of corrugated cardboard the same size as the top of the pizza box
  • One milk (or juice) jug cap
  • One small piece of foam (we used high-density)
  • Chalkboard contact paper 
  • Dry-erase contact paper 
  • The usual suspects: craft knife, scissors, hot glue gun

Note: You can buy chalkboard contact paper and dry-erase contact paper online (try amazon) and at some craft stores. An alternative is to use chalkboard paint and regular clear contact paper over white card stock.

Step 1
Glue down the center flaps of the pizza box so the four shallow walls of the board are upright. 

Step 2
Cut a piece of corrugated cardboard the same size as the top of the pizza box. 

Hot-glue this to the front flap (the one that tucks into the front of the box) 

This is the finished bare easel, with its flap tucked into the base: 

Step 3
Cut a piece of dry-erase contact paper to size, peel and stick it onto one side of the open easel. 

Repeat for the chalkboard contact paper, sticking that to the opposite side of the open easel. 

The easel is completed! 

Step 4
Cut a piece of foam so that it is bigger than the milk jug cap. This piece will fit nicely inside the cap, but it will be too tall.

You can trim yours to the right height, and to a more aesthetically pleasing shape if you like.

Step 5
Hot glue the foam piece to the inside of the cap, 

squeezing it in so that it expands and fits snugly inside the cap. 

This works really well with the dry-erase side of the easel 

but we found that we had to dampen it a little to get the chalkboard absolutely clean.

Add chalk, dry-erase markers and play school! 

Or write silly messages to no one in particular. 

When you're done playing, store everything inside the easel, 

fold and shut the lid, 

and put it away for another day. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Concert Black

photo credit: Bill Kotrba

Finally remembered to post about the dresses which I made chickens in order to procrastinate on sewing (I will get back to this later).

Some months ago, Emily informed me that there would be concerts happening in her music world, and some were fancy enough to require a floor-length, sleeved gown. So naturally we both sat on the task until it became dangerous to delay further, at which point sheer terror forced me to sit down to plan and design it. 

There was sketching, plus some ballpark-esque measuring, viz:

The left diagram was what I suggested: set-in sleeves on a classic A-line shift silhouette. The right diagram was what Emily wanted: raglan sleeves integrated into the neckline. The sleeves were to be chiffon (or some other sheer fabric), which meant every seam or dart or tuck would be visible. The practical side of me attempted a reality check: Um, Maybe If We Had Like Six More Months To Tweak The Fit? The side of me that loves a challenge ignored it. 

And I went shopping to gather the materials.

Let's not be deceived by how streamlined and efficient a process that sounds, friends. Because between the sketching and the buying was an extended period of lounging around and incubating, then acting on, creative stirrings completely unrelated to garment-making. You can read the long version here. Summary: chickens. Lots of unwarranted chickens. And a pattern to make even more chickens. 

At some point, I came to my senses and finally buckled down to make this dress, beginning with decent measurements to draft an updated sloper. Sloper completed, I thought I should make a test-dress. Like a muslin, but with nice fabric. Which sounds like good garment-making practice, except no one actually makes a completely finished dress out of the muslin, especially when one is pressed for time. Unless one is still procrastinating, I mean. 

The sewing room mid-sew

Now, Emily had also shown me an alternative, second-choice design to fall back on should the Actual Dress prove too fiddly to make, and that became the test-dress. The design was very simple: A-line skirt, short flutter sleeves, a square neckline. And in-seam pockets, because all formalwear should include those; men's dress trousers (and any kind of men's bottoms, really) certainly do.

I used some Ponte - a sturdy double-knit - which didn't require a lining beyond the standard facings. It was a fast sew but when I'd finished it, I beheld it with the exasperation of someone having just made a completely unnecessary thing and was now was obliged to justify it. Like, if Emily had to play in another concert someday which required floor-length gowns without long sleeves.

photo credit: Bill Kotrba

Because it was now The Week Before The Concert and we still didn't have what she needed.

And I'd officially exhausted all other means of procrastination.

I drafted the dress. 

The mental roadblock was the sleeves. Typical set-in sleeves would've been easy; raglan sleeves integrated into the neckline, in a translucent fabric, could not easily hide the darts, bunchy elastic gathers or additional seams which would be necessary to fit such sleeves over the shoulders, upper chest and neck. I tried shaping with just seams initially. The first sleeve draft, which I tried to do intuitively in order to save time, was disastrous.

Which led to late-night emergency chat sessions with my friend Jen (professional tailor, therefore wielded magic, I always felt), who suggested returning to first principles to get a better draft. 

Which I then did. Much better, and I could tell just by looking at the shape of the thing:

But two, three sleeve muslins later, the fit was still funky, because I was still avoiding the more visible shaping mechanisms like elastic and darts. It soon became evident that it would take a fair bit more time to tweak the sleeves to the extent that they could be successfully worn, let alone moved in vigorously to work an instrument.

So with days to spare, we compromised and fell back on my original design of set-in sleeves - a tad more matronly than instagram-chic, but wearable and infinitely more comfortable for arm-raising and pumping a trombone slide. Here is Emily in the dress. And yes, there are in-seam pockets also, of course.

Now Emily has two gowns between which to toggle for her various concerts, a fortuitous* side-effect of my avoiding and overcompensating, which is somehow both tragic and ridiculous. I am happy to report that enough new musical opportunities have arisen that she has been able to wear both gowns several times. Whoo! 

*how I pretend that procrastinating isn't 100% useless

Monday, April 25, 2022

Projects in Teeny Florals

Finished a couple of things for Mum a couple of weeks ago. Her old leather key pouch has been falling apart so I offered to make her a new one. Not leather, because I don't have any on hand. Also, I would've needed Dad's leatherworking supplies and tools and we aren't quite ready to go through his stuff; we're all in different countries so it's more a logistic reason than emotional, although there's some of that, too. Instead, I found some delicate* floral fabric in the store that I thought she'd like, and went to work. (*Clarification: the fabric isn't delicate, which would be most unwise for a wallet; it's the floral motif which is, I mean).

It was fun to sew wallets again. It's been a while, and I've missed it. I think if I had to rank sewing projects by favorites, wallets would be at the top of the list (and clothing alterations, say, sitting someway below the subbasement dungeons thereof). As far as wallets go, key pouches are very, very simple to sew, not least because there are very few compartments. This translates to not many layers of material to stitch through and eventually bind around the edges of. 

Installing the key holder hardware was another story, however.

The short version was that I didn't have the right tools, so had to improvise, which wrecked the fabric to the point of having to rip out the center panel of the wallet entirely and make a completely new replacement part. And by some miracle, I did find a way to put in the key holder bit properly this second time around. So: Nightmarish hardware installation, but easy sewing. As with all projects, you win some, you lose some. 

There's a zippered section behind the main compartment for bills. Her original key pouch had it, so I just duplicated the design exactly. Sometimes when we become attached to a bag or wallet and have to replace it, it's nice have an exact copy so we needn't get used to new places for our stuff, right?

Here's the back. Notice that the bottom edge is funky - this is because the outermost layer of wallets must be made slightly longer (wider?) than the inner layers, 

so that when the wallet is closed, with all its contents within, the layers will wrap snugly around and lie flat atop each other.

When I'd finished the key pouch, I thought I'd make a coin purse, too. So extra! And for no reason other than I had hardware just sitting in the stash, and I hadn't used it since making my friend a cow purse 13 years ago. 

And now I'm all warmed up, and feel like I want to make a whole bunch of actual wallets. Maybe I'll put some in the shop, too, in time for summer. Will keep you posted!

Hope everyone's been enjoying spring in whichever parts of the world are experiencing it right now. Minnesota has been a bit tardy with its warm days. We had snow last week, and people were saying Enough Already Go Away, which is shockingly disagreeable for a people who are supposed to be smugly stoic in the face of hypothermia. But this weekend is teasing temps in the 70s so we think we might be able to revert to Minnesota Nice again and not snap at our neighbors and endure things till summer finally does kick in. Virtual hugs to all!

Thursday, April 21, 2022


Very pleased (and relieved) to report that I've finally finished a proper crochet project! This is a scarf I started last summer when I'd grown a little bored of my washcloths.

Because it was so compact, it became my Portable Crochet Project - the one I took to doctor's appointments and swim meets and car rides en route to big family get-togethers. It even accompanied me to and from Singapore last month, and was a lovely distraction while transiting in interim airports (finagling a crochet hook on board the plane is a story for another day, though).

Can't remember the name of the yarn I used, only that it was very splitty, like embroidery floss. Many times I wanted to hurl the thing across the room because I'd miss a strand and have to frog large bits. Or when I'd brought the wrong hook out with me (the Susan Bates hook is much better for this yarn) and everything would slip or catch at random, like manipulating vermicelli with nicked chopsticks. Other times, I could serenely work row after row without a mishap. So much depended on my mood, the hook, the time of day, and who knew what other factors. 

The stitch I used is the Primrose Stitch. I discovered it while making washcloths, and decided it was so pretty that it should be featured en masse on clothing. One zillion mind-numbingly similar rows later, it occurred to me that maybe I would've done better to have introduced some variety in the design. 

So yes, there is no pattern for this scarf. I made it up. Even the color choices were somewhat random. This yarn was on sale, and it felt silky, drapey and non-acrylicky, so I picked three colors I thought wouldn't be obnoxious on their own, or together. 

And then I started knotting away. Had no idea what standard scarf size I should aim for, so I found a store-bought scarf in the house, wrapped it around my neck, declared it suitable, and made it my goal to approximate its dimensions. When I thought I'd gotten a third-way into the finished length, I switched colors. 

Sometime after the first thirty-somethingth row, my brain must've checked out and I began adding stitches. I only realized this much later, after which came the awful moment when one has to decide whether to just keep moving forward or - in the name of human decency and being able to sleep at night - to frog everything and start anew from that point onward. I chose the former. As long as the sides were straight, I rationalized, it was all good. Besides, where is the fun in always erasing the evidence of one's learning? This way, I'll always be able to revisit that exact spot where the count first went off and I accidentally merged two primroses into one (reframing: I did an increase! Never mind if unintended!) and made a new shape with my yarn knots. And it wasn't a catastrophe. This is how we cure perfectionism: one uncorrected blemish at a time, given a new name like Variety and Nonconformity and Hey It Could Well Be A Hitherto Undiscovered Stitch. 

Anyway, very pleased with the outcome.

This is the victory moment, right after I cut the yarn off following the last stitch. Wound it around my neck to take this selfie. Not sure if my expression is elation or profound relief. Or a little of both, plus Where Exactly Should I Look Where Is The Camera.

Slightly related, the photos in this and recent posts were taken with my phone. Quite obviously different, as you may have noticed. We're transitioning between photo softwares and I haven't yet relearned how to access the photos on the Good Camera, let alone prep them for sharing online. I miss my camera photos!