Monday, 31 December 2012

Bye Bye 2012...and a Happy Sun Handmade Soft Toy

Bye bye 2012...thank you for having seen the blossoming of my creativity, and the birth of this blog. Thank you for allowing me to feel myself again and express my crafty side...
And thanks to the hundreds (or thousands!) of people that have visited the blog so far (last count, 8,600 and something visits...thank you!), I do hope 2013 will bring to you all (and my loved ones, of course)

(i.e. bread, love and creativity)

Now, down to our favourite business...I shall close this year with a post that I hope will inspire you to use your hands a little more and create simple (but lovely), environmentally friendly things for yourselves and your loved ones.

This one is a cute Happy Sun soft toy I made for my new little niece, Ingrid.

Young babies really love staring at faces, so I thought I'd make a happy face for her. My own daughter, when she was a baby, loved also pulling and chewing tags, so I decided to give life to a "Happy Sun" soft toy, using several scraps of fabric to make the tags and, for the face, a soft cotton muslin that had been my daughter's (washed and washed time and time again, so really soft and environmentally friendly).
I added the blue cheeks cutting them out of a piece of microfibre cloth (but you could use any material, I like the microfibre because it's soft and has texture). I stuffed this soft toy with the usual cushion stuffing. However, for my next toys, I'll use pure wool. I have a lovely colleague at work who buys sheep wool and spins it, before knitting her knitwear. She very kindly agreed to give me some of her leftover bits of wool, so on Christmas Eve I decided to clean my first batch of smelly wool in my kitchen. Not much difference with a barn, but in the end I had a bag full of lovely, natural stuffing made out of Jacob wool.

The construction of the Happy Sun soft toy is super-simple.
You'll need scraps of fabric, ribbon, toy stuffing of your choice, and a little bell (optional).
I started with cutting my bits of fabric:
  • Two circles out of the muslin cloth (I used a small side dish plate as a guide);
  • A number of rectangular pieces from the scraps of cotton to make the tags, which I then folded in half. I also used a few pieces of ribbon. The tags will all need to be positioned snugly around the circles, so make sure you take into account their seam allowance when counting how many you'll need. You can always add more as you go if you need, though;
  • Two small circles for the Happy Sun cheeks.

Next step, I embroidered my happy face by machine (but you could do this by hand if you wanted to) and stitched the cheeks on the right side of one of the two muslin cloth circles. See picture at the beginning of the post for an idea of how to do that (sorry, I forgot to take a picture of this step!).

Then, I sewed a small seam all around three sides of each tag (not the ribbons), and turned the tags inside out to reveal their right sides.
I took my tags, I arranged them and pinned them all around the right side of the soft toy embroidered circle as shown below, so that they would fit snugly, with their open sides one next to the other, and the rest of the tags overlapping as needed.

Then, I sewed all around the edge of the happy face circle to secure the tags to it.

I then put the other muslin circle on top of the first one, right sides facing each other, and sewed a seam all around, leaving a couple of inches gap to allow the toy to be turned inside out and stuffed.

Lastly, after I stuffed the soft toy firmly (and inserted a little bell inside to make a soft jingly sound), I sewed the gap by hand.

Ta-dah!  Soft toy finished and ready to be gifted to a lucky baby!

Happy 2013 everyone!!!

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Last minute DYI Christmas Cards

HO HO HO! It is that time of the year again...I don't know you guys, but I found myself with lots to do still, and Christmas is only 10 days away...
If you are super-organised, and have already done everything you had to do (presents, baking, decorations, packing, cards...) then this post may NOT be for you - however, you may get inspired for other occasions, like birthdays. But if you, like me, are a last minute person for most of your life, please read on...

Today I'll tell you how I made some really nice Christmas cards, involving my two-year-old as a little crafty project, in just a few minutes and for very, very little money.

So, you'll need:
  • ordinary paper
  • cards - the size is up to you (you can buy blank ivory cards and envelopes for a few pounds, or you can cut your own cards from A1 card sheets, which will cost less but it's a little more hassle)
  • scissors
  • watercolours and paint brushes 
  • stick glue
  • a child (optional)
I wanted to make delicately coloured paper flowers, so I asked my little monkey to paint whatever she wanted with the watercolours on a piece of plain A4 paper. At the end you'll need a coloured square piece of paper, so you may want to cut it square before you (or your child) paint it. In my case, I cut it after.
This are the sort of things my little monkey paints at the moment:

I let the colours dry and then I cut two squares out of an A4 'painting' . For ordinary-sized cards (A6) you can first cut in half your A4 paper to obtain two paper flower decorations per sheet. I didn't measure anything, I just folded on a diagonal the short side of each piece of rectangular paper, on the long side, like this:
Now I had two colourful, square piece of paper, I folded and cut each of them following the Martha Stewart's paper snowflake tutorial. However, I wanted to make it a little more intricate, I found this paper flower on Pinterest and got inspired by it (apologies, but I can't find the original link):

The basic concept is, after you fold your square in eight as illustrated by the Martha Stewart's tutorial, you can have fun cutting your flower / snowflake the way you want, and be surprised by the results!
(P.S. I loved this technique so much  that I stuck a few paper snowflakes on my kitchen window = instant Christmas feeling)
I cut a few paper flowers like that, then I glued them on the back of my cards, with the centre fold of the paper right in the centre of the fold of the card. Be careful to stick the flower from the centre out, pressing carefully so that it glues flat on the card and doesn't lose its shape. Tip: use a ruler to press it flat; if you use your hands, the glue will get dirty and will stain the card and the flower, plus you won't have the same neat result.

I finished my cards off by writing a greeting message.
Done! Isn't that super-easy and cute?

And since Christmas is very near, let me wish you a bright, cosy, wonderful time with your loved ones - with a special thank to my mum who provided the image below of one of her wonderful cross stitch works.
Lots of love xxx

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

How to make a soft octopus out of an old glove: upcycling while watching TV

I really couldn't resist today, I had to post immediately about my little un-winding activity from last night: making a little soft octupus from an old glove!

We will be moving to a bigger house next week, so this week is all about packing and decluttering (and working 9 to 5, of course).
Yesterday was my wardrobe's turn to be emptied and decluttered. Mountains of old woolly hats and gloves and scarves attacked me as soon as I opened the door...half of them ended up in the charity shop bag as I haven't worn them for so long (can you picture me with a pink, sparkly scarf? neither), but while I was closing the bag I noticed a spare, holed wool glove...mmmm...the eco-warrior in me rebelled...and a lightning bolt of an idea hit me (well, almost...)!
Anyway, I sat on the sofa in front of the telly (you can see the glare from it below) and placed next to me my sewing box.

I started stuffing the glove's fingers with stuffing stuff :) - from a cushion's interior material
(Yes, I'm wearing yellow Crocs, so what?!)

With stuffed fingers, it was easier to mend the holes (there were a few of them)

Once the fingers were mended and firmly stuffed, I started sewing right at the top of the fingers, all around the glove, with the purpose of narrowing the "neck" of the octopus. The fingers are its tentacles.

It's important to try and sew the thumb at the same level as the other fingers (as illustrated below), so there won't be difference between arms, when the octopus is finished.

Then I simply pulled the thread at both ends, made a knot and stitched a few more times across to secure the "neck".

A bit more stuffing...A LOT more, actually, to make a round, firm octopus head

I sewed around the base of the glove (at the wrist), then pulled and knotted the thread to close the head.

Ta-dah! it does look like an octopus, doesn't it? But let's make it cuter...
Using some felt, I cut white circles (and blue coloured for the pupils) and hand-sewed the eyes on the head.
...and the extra fancy bit: I applied a felt star I previously made by dry felting
(a technique I've just learnt, using felted wool and cookie cutters as forms - really liberating activity, with all that furious pricking the felt with a needle!), but you can use normal felt or any other decoration/material that tickles your fancy
What about some buttons (just a bunch of old, mismatched ones did the job) as tentacles' suction cups?
And there it is, a cute little octupus ready to be played with (...after Christmas Eve, that is!)


Friday, 16 November 2012

How to upcycle a canvas bag

If you, like me, have a day job (that's why my posts are unfortunately a little rare these days...), you may also go to conferences and exhibitions. Even if you don't have a job, you may anyway go to places where now the "eco-gadget" of choice is...a canvas bag.
I found at home at least 10, and more in my office...I work in the environmental industry, so you would expect us to have LOTS of canvas bags laying around...
So, how to upcycle these bags and make them prettier - since they usually have branding printed on the front, and they are not very pretty?

This what how I have done it.

1. I wanted to cover completely the printed branding on the front of the bag, so I've chosen enough fabric scraps to make a panel to stitch on it, some applique' birdies, and some ribbon for decoration.

2. I cut the background fabric to the same size of the front of the bag, plus hemline. I then chose and cut the other contrasting fabrics to add to it. I pressed the hemlines (speeding up the process to make a clean hem without basting...) all around. I chose the fabric for the applique' birdies, cut the outline shape (you can find the original idea and pattern for the birdies in the delicious Country Kitty's blog here), and pinned them on the main panel.

3. I then applied the birdies to the main panel, using a very dense zig-zag for the main body, and a loose regular stitch for the wings, beaks and legs. My mum helped making the birdies' eyes by hand-stitching french knots on them. Finally, I stitched the ribbon and block-coloured panel to the main panel.

4. After my failed attempt to stitch the work on the bag by machine (I haven't got the right machine to reach the bottom of the bag with ease), my mum very sweetly offered to hand-stitch it (what would I do without my mum...???)

...and that's it, really!

The bag has now been given as a present to my little sister who is using it as a lunch bag.

If I survive this end of year madness (including work over-load, moving house and pre-Christmas frenzy) I'll make more of those as little presents...they are so sweet, aren't they?

Monday, 29 October 2012

A revelation: homemade body care products

Some of the basic ingredients needed for most homemade bodycare products
This summer I became vegetarian, or I should more precisely say, pescatarian, mainly for environmental and health reasons. This may have had some bearing on the story I'm telling you today, however I've always been in favour of natural when it comes to body care (I don't mean armpit and leg hair let grow wild...not that much natural!). However a month or so ago, I started considering going "no-poo" (tree-hugger's jargon for No Chemical Shampoo) when a friend revealed that she was ditching chemically packed haircare products after a lice spell - apparently lice really like squeaky clean hair washed with shampoo. I researched a little, and I have to repeat myself here, but I have to praise once again Pinterest for being such an inspirational and bottomless source of inspiration. I found a very basic hair washing routine, that has been working like a treat, of one tablespoon of soda bicarbonate diluted in water to wash and one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar diluted in water to condition. That's it. If you can get over the absence of lather and perfume, this is for you...but you can add a little shine and scent by applying a tiny amount of coconut oil on the ends of your hair. My curls are back and I feel 16 again.

Next, I decided to give a go at making my own whipped body butter. This is the one homemade product I have been meaning to make for a long long time, especially since Little Monkey suffers from an annoying eczema patch that no commercial product managed to get rid of for any longer than a few days. This one has totally eliminated it in three applications. The three basic ingredients are coconut oil (which I also use a demaquillant and body cream), shea butter and sweet almond oil. All organic and relatively cheap to buy in bulk over the internet. For the recipe, I've used the one you can find on One Good Thing by Jillee, a resourceful blog full of incredible recipes for homemade beauty and house cleaning products. My only adaptation has been to put the oily mixture in the freezer for a couple of hours before whipping it, and adding Lavender essential oil to give it my favourite scent. This butter is my favourite little luxury I indulge in every day - and it doesn't make you any bigger for indulging!

The other discovery is a face cream that feels just as lovely, made with a basic oil mixture (coconut oil, Shea butter and beeswax), and some Vitamin E, chamomile infusion and jasmin essential oil. The recipe can be found on the Handmade in PA blog. Again, super simple to make, and it feels really nice on the skin. Also, you can change the infused herbs depending on your skin's needs (I used dried chamomile flowers for their calming properties and also because easily available at my local market).

But the real discovery for me has been a natural deodorant made with (guess what?) coconut oil, bicarbonate of soda (my other favourite thing in the whole world), cornflour (yes! You read well...this is to absorbe moisture), beeswax and essential oils (again, another lavender kick for me). This incredible, creamy deodorant is MORE effective than the equivalent commercial brands. I tried to do some maths to understand how much this deodorant costs, when compared to equivalent commercial brands, and I think this costed me around £1.50 per stick (I've used two empty roll-on deodorant containers). So, it is cheaper, it is more natural (even organic) and it works wonderfully, no "skunk effect" even after a whole working (and stressful) day. Buying the ingredients in bulk also helps saving. Again, the recipe can be found on One Good Thing by Jillee.

Add to this that I now clean my house with vinegar in which orange peals and cloves have been immersed for 15 days...lovely wintery smell and great results. At a fraction of the price and without nasties.

The basic ingredients for my homemade deodorant
I'm so passionate about all of this that I feel like I'm embarking in a war on corporations, chemicals and attempts to sell hot air at dear prices...and it's only started!!!

Feb13 Update:
I'm experimenting more and more on bodycare products and recently made lip balm (have a look at this, only a few ingredients for a wonderful, vaseline and other nasties-free lip balm) and solid lotion bars (check my post on them, with link to recipe - here).
I've been making lots of them to give to my friends as small presents, nicely wrapped up in brown packing paper with a ribbon, or I have sewn a sweet little pouch with oilcloth and cotton in which to put them...

March 2013 UPDATE! if you can't be bothered to make lotion bars or creams and you'd rather buy my handmade products, you can visit my Etsy shop: - if you can't find what you are looking for, please contact me and I'll try and help :)

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Remembering summer: Super Hero Cape

Autumn! Where did summer go???

Well, I want to be positive today and appreciate how the summer sun has infused slowly slowly orange and red tones into trees and vegetables...isn't that one of the most magical things about autumn?

I feel as I'm starting to hibernate, with the days becoming shorter and the thermometer starting plummeting. So, to cheer myself and you guys up (hopefully), I'd like to tell you about a sweet little project that I thoroughly enjoyed doing about a month and a half ago. Also, you may want to make one of these as a quick fix for Halloween...
It feels quite nice to show you pictures of one of the last lovely, sunny days of summer, when we gave this super-hero cape to Stan the Little Man.
Good job his name is Stanley, really, as the S on the cape is just for him!


If you want to do something similar, you'll need to take your child's measurements from the base of  the neck to the back of their knees, as this is the perfect length for a cape without becoming a  nuisance to the little ones - remember The Incredibles? Capes can get stuck in action! :)
In my case, this measurement was 55cm (for a child of two).
Also, you'll need to measure your child's shoulder width and make the width of the cape a little wider than that (a couple of inches overall). And finally (and VERY important), the neck diameter. I suggest you take your child's neck circumference and add a good two inches to that too, so that it is not uncomfortable when the cape is tied at the neck. Or you can add an inch to the diameter. In the pattern I designed, the neck is open and fastened by Velcro, so think about what is the final neck opening size when the cape is fastened.
The base of the cape is wider than the shoulder width as that makes the cape fall nicely. Remember to add about half a centimetre all around as seam allowance (My apologies, I realise this is all a bit lose and if you don't have an idea of how to play it by ear, it will be difficult for you to do it. I suggest you do a quick Google search for patterns, or look on the always-resourceful Pinterest. I too loosely followed some ideas for this cape I found on it).
As for the materials, I used very lightweight cotton, in blue and yellow, as the last thing a child wants is to feel constrained by a heavy thing hanging from his neck. Also I used some orange scraps for the letter at the back.
I drew half the cape lengthwise on tracing paper, then transferred the pattern on the blue and the yellow fabrics as shown on the pic below.

I sewed a yellow circle (made by reusing the leftover circle of the neck bit) on the blue side. Then pinned and sewed a big orange S on top.

 Then, I joined the two parts of the cape, right sides facing, by sewing all around the cape, taking care of leaving a small area (about 10cm) open at the base of the cape for turning it inside out.

I turned it inside out, added some Velcro to fasten the cape at the neck, and top stitched all around to finish off.

 And that's the cape being worn by the super-hero himself, while on a mission to save the world!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Mini Mei Tai baby carrier for a doll

About a year ago I was introduced to the beauty of the Mei Tai, an oriental-style baby carrier that can carry comfortably newborns as well as toddlers.
I was always a fan of baby carriers (as you can learn from my post on the Mei Tai baby carrier I made myself a while ago). But I learn a lot more about them through a fellow Italian eco-mum, Tiz (she has four little monkeys though!). She makes lovely Mei Tai's, which she sells, and has also a blog worth following, My Mei Tai, which contains much information about ecoparenting, natural birth, baby-wearing, the lot.
Tiz is a generous type too, so from her blog you can download free instructions for making your own Mei Tai and even a mini version of it for carrying dolls (here; instructions are in Italian, I should add).
So, using her instructions I sewed my own mini Mei Tai for Little Miss' birthday (it only took a couple of hours...), and she has been sporting it quite a bit in town ever since: imagine people's faces when they saw my little girl trotting along with her dollie in her cute mini carrier.
Somebody the other day asked her:
"Aw, is that your baby you are carrying?"
to which she answered:
"It's not a baby, it's a DOLL".
She is quite an old lady into a little body, sometimes!
You can see I've added to Tiz' basic model a front pocket for all those little Lego bits, toy cars and animals, and minuscule pieces of paper Little Monkey LOVES carrying around. I've quickly cut and hand-sewn a felt strawberry on the pocket to match the fabric she chose for the front panel. The back panel, the pocket and the straps are in denim.


You can see how this can be a great way of involving a child when there is a new arrival in the family, and how children can learn to be caring through play and imitation of their parents.
You can find other  types of baby carrier for dolls on the Internet, including these you can find on:
Seven Thirty Three
A popular version by Oliver + S on Little Things to Sew
And patterns available on Etsy to buy, like this by 3Bean Studio.

Happy baby wearing!