Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Simple Stuffies

     Nate and Elli love owls.  This love may have begun with Martin Waddell & Patrick Benson's Owl Babies or they may have been hooked upon their first visit with Grammy to the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (V.I.N.S.) which specializes in rescuing injured birds of prey.  Either way they love owls and playing owls.  When they were younger an adult jacket quickly became a set of wings and a well cover the nest. 

     This love has continued and became our family’s inspiration for last Fall’s Trunk or Treat car decorating competition.  Jeff and the kids built a nest in our trunk.  We found that a trunk sized nest is very big and needed much larger owls than any we had on hand.  One thought had been to have the kids dress up and be the owls in the nest, but we decided that they would too quickly fly away leaving a vacant nest.  Afterall, sitting in a trunk dressed up as an owl only seems exciting when there are not a bunch of friends and a bounce house waiting!  This being said we opted for the next easiest possibility.  Making our owls.  We had been given a large garbage bag of fleece which seemed perfect for creating lovable stuffies. 

For the pattern I did a quick search on Google Images for owl drawings and found what I was looking for.  A simple owl outline with simple eyes and beak.  I sketched the shape onto a large piece of paper.  I sketched separate eyes, beak, and wing patterns as well.  Each of us chose the colors that we wanted and off we went.  Once I had the fabric cut, Nate and Elli helped sew and stuff their owls with some assistance.  Within the afternoon we had four owls ready to roost and two very happy children.  Our owls continue to have many adventures. 
The basic pattern

Wing for larger owl.

Here are the basic steps:

Select a simple pattern.  This could be from clip art or a child’s drawing.
Enlarge the pattern.  I chose to free hand it but you could also enlarge on a copier.  Make sure to make separate pattern pieces for any separate items to be sewn on later such as eyes, arms, mouth’s etc. 
Cut out your pattern.
Pin the pattern to your chosen fabric doubled.  For items such as a beak you may only need a single thickness as you’ll be sewing those right to one of the body pieces and not stuffing. 
Cut out your fabric. 
Sew any features such as eyes to the outside of one of your body pieces.  I chose to do this by hand using a heavier crochet cotton, but you could use a machine.  Be sure to knot your cotton firmly on the inside to secure items.
Sew your body, right sides together, leaving at least a 4 inch opening to turn and stuff. (I used a machine for this.)
Hand sew opening closed. 
Sew and attach any additional outside items.  This is where I sewed on the wings.  I sewed two pieces of fleece together for each wing and did not turn them leaving a one inch seam allowance.  Once each wing was sewn, I then fringed the edges of the wings to form “feathers” taking care to not snip the seams.  I then hand stitched the wings on in their desired location. 

Items needed:
Fabric – I used fleece as it does not fray, is soft, readily available, and very easy to work with.
Paper to make a pattern – I taped typing paper together to get desired size.
Sewing machine – You could do this all by hand.
Needles – One for regular thread and one with a larger eye for the crochet cotton. 
Crochet cotton or some sort of heavier thread to attach wings, eyes, etc. 
Extras:  Buttons, beads, pompons, etc.

Other notes:  I made all four owls from the same pattern, but just cut wider around the pattern for the desired size.  If any of this is confusing feel free to ask questions.  I’ll gladly help you in your creations! 

Elli stuffing her owl!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sewing with children

     Maybe it’s because my grandmother sewed with me at a young age or maybe because I’m just intrepid, but I love putting young children at the helm of a sewing machine.  There is a certain delight in the eyes of a child when they use a "grown up machine" to create their own toy or gift for another out of a pile of fabric.

     My first experience with this came during my time running recreation programs in Ashland, NH.  A community member had donated an old sewing machine, almost antique!  No matter how old it was the great thing was that it was simple and it worked!  One winter vacation we pulled it out and sewed some bean bags and simple balls.  Even my first graders were delighted to go home with a new toy!  Now with my own children I look for ways to teach them to sew.  I think Nate and Elli both first got behind the machine at the age of three.

     I know some of you may be wondering if I’m crazy at this point?  Or maybe you’ve already made up your mind.  Either way there are a few things that I do to make sewing with kids possible.  Fun sewing projects don’t usually happen by accident.  A lot of planning is involved. Here are a few things I do or consider before embarking on a project.
  1. I've gotten to know my sewing machine.  I know how fast it will go when the pedal is depressed so far or fast.  I know where the power switch is.
  2. Second is timing.  When we sew, we have time.  We also don’t have hungry belly’s or are not overly tired. 
  3. I let go of my expectations.  I don’t expect perfection.  I also don’t expect prolonged interest.  Projects are either short and can be completed within 5 – 10 minutes of machine time or they are such that they can be put away for a time. 
  4. I consider safety before we ever start.  What will the child’s role be today? What are they capable of doing right now?  Can they guide the fabric around or should they just work the pedal?  For younger children I always start with the pedal.  This gives me a good indication of their ability to listen.  Can they stop, start, or slow down as needed?  Hands are always kept away from the needle.
  5. Project.  What type of project will bring the child success?  Bean bags are relatively simple and quick, stuffies a bit more complicated (My next post will provide a simple idea for a stuffie).  Coasters, relatively simple.  What can I do to help them succeed?  Are there things that I can do ahead of time to capture their peak interest?  Sewing can be boring for kids.  I remember hours spent at the fabric store looking for patterns and fabric, I remember mom cutting and measuring.  If I can have everything prepped and call them over when we’re ready to sew, everything goes much smoother.  As a child gets older they can take more of a role in project planning. 
  6. I know that sometimes I have to put it away.  If I’m starting to feel stressed with the project and start saying, “Stop, STOP, STOP!” too often, I know that this is probably not ending up as an fun project for the kids.  We pack it up and pull it out again when Mama’s not so stressed. 

If you sew with children what else would you add?  

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Morning Rush

     Let's face it.  Mornings can be rough.  Getting everyone out the door with breakfast in the belly and all of the day's needed attachments is often no small feat.  Simple, grab it from the bag and go breakfasts help ease the morning stress.  Muffins are perfect.  Make a double batch.  Freeze or bag some and have breakfast for the week.  Last Fall my friend Bonnie Chase shared her granola bar recipe.  It's perfect, even easier than muffins and amazingly versatile to whatever I happen to have on hand.  It's an instant hit every time I've share them (always with a bit of grumbling on the home-front that the pan is empty already!).  These granola bars are great for wherever your wanderings may take you! Enjoy!

Granola Bars

Tastes much like Woodstock Cookie Company Granola Bars.
From Bonnie Chase, Adapted by Jessica Bickford

Mix together dry ingredients:
2 C oats
1/2 C brown sugar
1/2 C wheat germ or wheat bran
1 t cinnamon
1 C whole wheat flour
1 C whatever (chocolate chips, cranberries, pecans, etc., etc., etc...) (I often use 1 cup ground nuts and ½-1 cup chocolate chips)
3/4 t salt

Optional Nutritional Additives: 1/4 C soy lecithin; 1 T gelatin; hemp, chia, or flax seeds (I use ¼ to ½ cup ground flax seeds.) ; steel cuts oats...use your nutritional imagination! 

Now mix in wet ingredients:

1/2 C oil
1/2 C honey or maple syrup
2 eggs
2 t vanilla (I’ve been known to omit this without any major disruptions)

Mix well and press into a well-greased 9 x 13 pan. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool 5 minutes and cut bars, but do not remove them from the pan or eat them until they've cooled COMPLETELY.