Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Sometimes the best project ideas come from other people. So, I must start this post off with a huge thank you to my friend Libby Quinn. This is an idea that she brought to me. She's the owner of a local Tucson business called Sign With Baby Tucson.  Among other things, she does ASL (American Sign Language) storytimes for children all around Tucson. (Locals, check out her website and Facebook page, she's awesome!)

She called me and asked if I could make a puppet and props for a series of stories based loosely on The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Okay. A puppet...and props for the be used at storytimes for kids...based on one of my (and my son's) favorite board book ever???

YES, please!!

Seriously, what is there not to love about a project like this? We talked about what she envisioned; a caterpillar puppet, a bunch of fruits and vegetables with holes through the center, a cocoon, and of course, the beautiful butterfly. And then we talked materials, deciding to do the bulk of the project with felt, it's readily available, not expensive and we both had a bunch already. And then a time frame for completion, and I was off to the races.

Right away I realized that making a hand puppet for a storyteller who uses sign language posed some interesting challenges. A regular sock style or hand puppet wouldn't work, as her hands need to be free to speak. And it would be awkward to hold any kind of rod, (my original idea for the butterfly) because "butterfly" is a 2 handed sign. Thankfully, she's the professional here and already had an idea about that; having the caterpillar strap to her forearm and having the fruits and veggies go over the caterpillar, leaving her hands free.

So, with the plan in place, I got to work. I started with the caterpillar. I used green felt strips gathered slightly to make the top of his "segmented" body and a flat piece with elastic and velcro for her to slip over her arm on the bottom. Then I stuffed the body with poly-fill and set it aside.

For his head, I cut a big red circle of polar fleece (I like the way it stretches better) and ran a gathering stitch around the outside edge, appliqued his eyes and nose on, pulled the gathering stitches partially closed and stuffed the head.

Next, I hand stitched the head onto the body and added the antennae. And there he was, one Very Hungry Caterpillar!


Next I got started on the fruits and vegetables. She chose potatoes, corn, green beans, peas, carrot, grapes, apple, peach, pear, banana, orange, watermelon, and strawberry. I wanted them to be stiff enough to stand up, but with enough flexibility to stack very close together and fold down into the cocoon. I ended up pinning 2 pieces of felt together, then drawing an outline of my fruit or veggie, stitching around the outline and cutting on the outside of the stitching line. Then I traced a circle in the center, stitched around the outline and cut out the hole.

As I went along, I added some details like leaves, stems, and some "quilting" to give them all some dimension. Next, I cut out circles slightly larger than the holes and stitched them a little ways across the top. This makes the fruit or veggie look "whole" before the caterpillar eats through it. (And as an added bonus, these can be used in other stories.)

Here are a few of my favorites finished--




green beans

A group photo of everything finished.

To see more photos of the individual fruits and veggies, check out my flickr photostream here: NoBusinessLikeSewBusinessFlickr

Now that I had the caterpillar and the fruits and veggies, I had an idea of how big the cocoon was going to have to be. Pretty big. And I have to admit, at this point, I was stumped. At first, I thought I could just use 1/4 inch upholstery foam as a base, sew fabric onto it, maybe add a little batting for some extra dimension and somehow make that into a tube. So, using a variety of brown fabrics, I came up with this.

Which I really liked. And it worked great. Right up to the "make it into a tube" part.  Where I got stumped. I spent most of a day trying to make an idea work, when I accidentally found the perfect solution. 

Large embroidery hoops. Seriously. They're big, round circles with holes in the center. Already made. So, using a combination of hot glue and staples, I put the largest hoop in the center and two slightly smaller ones at either end. And this is one of those great times where the more imperfect something is, the better it looks. I was loving it!

And then it rolled off the table.  So I added a straight piece along the bottom as a "cocoon stop". And then it was perfect!

Here it is finished from the front. I love all the different textures and layers of fabric it has.

And now for the butterfly. I wanted him to be able to stand up a bit more than everything else, so I started with a stiff felt as a base. I drew the outline of the butterfly on in pencil, then added some inner lines as a guide. Then I chose some lightweight silks, tulle and some extra felt and started applying them onto the base in layers.

I really wanted the butterfly to have a little something special, so I added some sparkly tulle and organza on top of the plain fabrics as I went along.

Again, I just love the texture and dimension the layered effect gives the butterfly.

And then I added the head and body.  And he was---A Beautiful Butterfly! (missing his antennae in this photo, oops!)

So, here's the caterpillar,

eating his way through a peach,

to go into his cocoon, and emerge as; 

A beautiful butterfly!!  How awesome it that?! Even though there were moments I really struggled with this project, I could not be happier with how it all came together in the end. 

It was really, really hard to let these guys go. But, watching her daughter's face light up when they came to pick them up, and imagining all the other kids who are going to see them when she brings them to life with her storytelling....what could be better than that?

The cast of The Very Hungry Caterpillar

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Tutorial: Lego Shelves

Here's an easy tutorial for my Lego shelves, seen HERE.

I made mine using store bought cube shelves, but you can easily build your own shelves and embellish them so they look like Legos.

You will need--
Shelves or wood to make shelves
closet rod or dowel, depending on the size of your shelves
ruler or tape measure
some kind of saw to cut your dowel--I used a chop saw, but you could also use a radial arm saw or a band saw, whatever is available to you.
Brad nailer
wood filler or spackle
spray paint -- I used Kilz as a base coat and a bright Rustoleum gloss color for the finish

Note: this tutorial is written using an existing shelf.

First, you'll need to decide how many "pegs" will go on each side of your shelf.  I just eyeballed what looked to be the right proportions for my shelves. For example, the shelves that are 8"X8" looked better with six pegs per side, while the shelves that are 6"X6" looked better with only four.  It should be easy enough to see which looks right.

Count all the dowel pieces you'll need for the shelf.  Take the closet rod and measure every 1 1/4", make a mark. You could also measure the same amount on your saw and set up a block at 1 1/4", it is a bit more accurate. Cut the amount of dowel dowel pieces you need for your shelves (this gets a bit tedious) and sand any rough edges.

Next, use a ruler (or carpenter square) to mark out where the dowel piece will go one side at a time. Then glue them in place.  They might slip a little depending on how much glue you put on, not a big deal, just be aware.

Then, using a brad nailer, staple the dowel pieces in place. Use the wood filler or spackle to fill in the nail holes, and sand when dry.

Then, paint your new Lego shelves. I base painted mine with white Kilz spray paint first to help cover the dark wood and so that the whole self started the same color.  I also think base painting with white makes the colors look brighter.

Then, hang them! If you used an pre-manufactured shelf, you can simply hang using the existing hardware, if not, hanging hardware is readily available at and hardware store.

Simple as that, you have functional and decorative shelves all in one. These can be made any length, width, or stacked together, really the possibilities are endless (kind of like real legos) So have fun with them!

Let me know if you make some! I'd love to see them!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Return of The Decorator Fairy

I suppose some of you may remember when The Decorator Fairy made her first appearance at our house in January. She arrived, did her makeover on the bottom bunk bed, and was gone before my daughter even got home from school. And peace and happiness has reigned in the bottom bunk ever since.

Now, what I didn't see coming was my son's reaction to the Decorator Fairy's work. He was really, really upset, angry, and jealous that the Decorator Fairy hadn't fixed up the top bunk for him. Silly me, I thought that having the top bunk was the coolest thing ever on it's own.

Apparently not.

But after several months of watching him, gathering odds and ends, and finding the perfect fabric just yesterday,  the Decorator Fairy has returned triumphant!

Now, one thing I've noticed about the top bunk is that there's no convenient side table to hold his books (or whatever else he drags up there with him). Okay, so he needed shelves. And he really wanted a canopy like his sister, only with "stars and space". Okay. He's really into Star Wars, and Lego. So, with all of that in mind, I started looking for ideas.

I found this Star Wars fabric at JoAnn Fabric and bought the rest of the bolt, a couple of yards.

I really liked it, but it didn't seem right for a canopy, so I kept looking.

And nothing. Seriously. Not one cool space fabric, no other Star Wars fabric that wasn't ridiculously expensive, and frankly nothing that spoke to me at all. So, I moved on to shelves. Again, nothing. I just couldn't find anything that seemed right, it got pretty frustrating.


I kid you not, I had pretty much given up looking for the right canopy fabric and had decided to just go with shelves until I found myself at JoAnn Fabrics again yesterday. 

And there it was.

I was stunned, it's just perfect! And I love the brightness of the colors, I snatched it right up. At last!!

I'd already been working on some shelves that I bought at the last Goodwill 50% off Saturday sale.  I do love to go all over town and stock up on things like frames, vintage sheets, and  hunt through the craft sections, in hopes of finding a treasure.  At the last sale I found what I was looking for! I found a bunch of mismatched cube shelves for 50 cents each, and suddenly I knew what to make. Lego shelves!!

Basically, I took three of the cube shelves all slightly different sizes, added 1 1/4" closet rod pieces to the sides and bottom, leaving the center and tops open to put things on, and spray painted them in bright Lego colors.  (For the full tutorial, see this post.)



Next, I built a bookshelf similar to the cubes, with a little Pottery Barn inspiration thrown in and painted it a nice bright blue. And once I put some tall books on the shelf to check the height, I added a small yellow cube.

I hung the space canopy above the headboard using cup hooks screwed into the ceiling with the fabric gathered onto a dowel rod just like on the lower bunk. The Decorator Fairy likes to go with the tried and true!

I used some of the cool Star Wars fabric to make a new pillow case. (With the long term plan being to make him a new winter comforter with the rest---it'll be a while before that happens) 

Then, once everything was hung up, I put the sheets (and all the animals) back on the bed, put some things on the shelves and.....

TA--DA!!!! The triumphant return of The Decorator Fairy!

Oh yes, and The Decorator Fairy left him a note thanking him for his patience as well as warning against any object heavier than a book being put on the shelves. (I figured he'd take it better coming from her.)

This is what he saw when he got home from school today. And I was lucky enough to actually witness his reaction without him noticing. He literally gasped, put his hands up to his face, looked at his sister and said, "The Decorator Fairy IS real!"  pause "And she made my bed even cooler than yours!!"

And then he asked to go to bed 45 minutes early!

Game. Set. Match.

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Friday, April 6, 2012

Fabric Gift Baskets

Yesterday, I posted my version of a storage tote using the patterns from Sew 4 Home.  I did modify that pattern a bit to make it into a tote rather than a basket. But I really liked the tutorial as written so I went ahead and made 2 more.

My inspiration for these 2 baskets came from an invitation to a friend's baby shower. What cute gift baskets these would make! And they can be loaded up with all kinds of baby items.  Plus, the baskets are functional. I just can't tell you how many ways these baskets are wonderful!

Since she and her family decided not to find out the sex of the baby, I went ahead and made a boy gift basket and a girl gift basket. These versions followed the tutorial pretty much to the letter. I used one of my favorite boy fabrics for the outside of the boy basket and lined it with a plain yellow Kona cotton. For the girl basket I used a more muted pink, cream, and grey butterfly fabric lined with a light pink Kona cotton.

Here are the baskets, finished.

Then I loaded them up with some other handmade items; appliqued onesies, some baby pants and hats and each got a laminated cotton bib (for later).

Baby Boy Basket.

Baby Girl Basket.

How cute did they come out?? I swear these fabric baskets could be used for just about anything!

Easter Baskets maybe??

Oh, and which basket did my expectant friend receive??  She had a beautiful little BOY!

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pretty Storage Tote

I have a lot of crafty stuff.

I like to do a lot of different kind of crafts, and let's face it scrapbooking supplies are simply not interchangeable with knitting supplies. So, I have a bunch of different kinds of craft supplies. And I am constantly rotating through them depending on what kind of craft whim I am on.

Oh, and I also have a small house. I truly believe that my house gets smaller every year, between my stuff, my husband's stuff (including a massive comic book collection) and the 2 kids and all of their stuff, space seems to just disappear.

So how to effectively store my crafty stuff so that it's both accessible and easy to put away is an absolute must. Plus, I like to go places to craft. What's more fun than a ladies night of knitting or scrapbooking?

So, when I stumbled on Sew 4 Home's Structured Fabric Baskets and Moda's Round Basket, I knew that they were a must make immediately!  (I am actually not joking about the immediately part. I dropped everything else I was working on that weekend to make some of these.) Cute storage for my stuff and a good way to use up some of my smaller pieces of fabric; yes, please!

I didn't have enough of the fabric I wanted to use to make the round basket, so I took the two patterns and kind of married them together. I followed the tutorial for the fabric baskets, adding the pockets from the round basket pattern and changing the handle placement so I ended up with more of a tote.

I really like the ric-rac detail  on the bag, it's such a neat way to use it as a cute trim.

And then I loaded it up with my scrapbooking tools.

And on Friday night, I was off to a fun evening with my scrapbooking friends.  And when I got home, all I had to do was put this bag on the shelf, everything already put away and ready to go again next time.

***Note, I did make 2 of the baskets as written in the original tutorial, which I will show you tomorrow***

Sunday, April 1, 2012


I have been on a knitting kick lately. It's spring in Arizona, and I have gone into a knitting frenzy. It makes no sense whatsoever, but there it is. In fact, I have abandoned several sewing and wood projects midway through to knit. My good friend Alison is responsible for this obsession of mine, as she taught me (at my request) how to knit in the summer of 2009. At the time my sewing machine was not set up all the time and I was looking for something to do that could be easily put away every evening. So I learned how to knit. I'm not that fast, and I haven't ventured into very difficult patterns, but I like it and it's still great for the evenings when I want to do something crafty without having to think too much. I always have at least one project going so it's easy to go pick up the bag, settle into the couch and pick up where I left off.

One thing I stumbled on this year are knitted cowls. I made myself an infinity scarf earlier in the winter from some jersey knit fabric and I just fell in love with it. It's the best marriage between a scarf and a turtleneck shirt in my opinion. So, when I mentioned that in a Facebook post, my friend Alison spoke right up and reminded me that a cowl can be knitted also.

I was nervous about knitting in the round after a very bad hat experience (another post altogether), so I chose a cowl that is worked flat, then twisted and seamed together. The pattern is from an old KnitScene magazine I picked up from our local used book store. The whole thing is worked in garter stitch (knit every row) and isn't super long, so it proved an excellent starter project.

And here is the result. I love that the yarn I chose gave such nice stripes, and the colors work with just about everything in my wardrobe. Plus it is warm and soft. The perfect neck accessory.

The next cowl I made I found on, an online knit and crochet website. If you knit or crochet and you haven't tried out Ravelry I highly recommend that you do. The whole site can seem a bit overwhelming at first, but like anything else, just start small and work your way up to the larger features. I've just recently started using the library and project features myself.

So I found the Looped Loop pattern for free on Ravelry and decided to make use of some really pretty yarn that I've had for a year sitting in a box, waiting for the perfect project. It took me about a week to finish this one, it is 44" long total, again the pattern is worked flat and seamed at together at the ends.

A front view, with the cowl doubled.

A side view.

Worn long. Isn't that yarn pretty?

This cowl was actually made for as a going away gift for one of my closest friends, Carolyn. Her favorite color happens to be purple and even though she's not moving that far north, I knew she'd love the colors and softness of the cowl. Plus, I like to think of this as my way of giving her a hug whenever she needs it, even if I'm not there.  I sure will miss her.

More adventures in knitting to come.....