Gift Cloths

Gift Wrap Cloths

Sorry for being away so long! I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving. Ours was nice and low-key, and featured some gluten-free apple pie. There was a big to-do about who got the last pieces, and not just among the GF folks. It’s that good.

The hubs and I also took a trip just before Thanksgiving, which I’ll have to tell you more about in another post.

Here I wanted to show you a little holiday craft we did. Last year I made gift cloths with Christmas fabric and existing Christmas linens, but this year I decided to add to the collection by decorating and sewing up scraps of fabric I already had in my stash.

The red and green stripe in the back left corner was made with watercolor-type fabric paints by Deka. I’ve had that paint forEVER. I tried to find a link to a place you can buy it, but it’s looking like it’s not sold in the US anymore. Bummer. It’s good stuff.

We decorated the fabric for the center red-ribboned present with Target brand “slick” fabric paints (you squeeze the bottles to draw with them). My least favorite fabric paint ever. Really poor quality, but we made the best of it.

The blue-ribboned gift cloth is pale pink, and we drew on it with Tee Juice markers, which are great for quick and easy projects, especially with kids. They are totally permanent, though, so, as with all of these supplies, dress accordingly.

Lastly, on the red-spotted cloth with the dark green ribbon, we used stamps with cheap acrylic paints from Michaels mixed with textile medium. This is one of my favorite ways to paint on fabric, because mixing it yourself gives you a wide range of choices. And in the end you aren’t left with a bunch of fabric paint you may never use again.

Below are some pre-decorated and hemmed gift cloths: a thrifted plaid tablecloth and two tea towels from Target marked down to 88¢!

The kids loved trying to guess what all these fake presents were, the favorite by far being the pink one below that’s wrapped like candy. It’s a sack of corn meal.

Loving this free printable nativity the kids can color themselves at Made by Joel.

Hope to be back soon with some details of our trip.

Gift Wrap Cloths

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The Cardboard Factory

Cardboard Crafts

I’m not exactly sure where it started (maybe with the rocket? maybe with this book?), but over the course of the summer, our dining room became piled high with cardboard creations.

I thought I’d share a few, in case they might inspire you or your kids. The center photo is the first guitar my son made. The others, clockwise from the top: a rocket, guitar  #2 and drum, shadow puppets, tube puppets, shadow puppet theater, and sword.

Summer’s over, and the factory had to be cleaned up, but we make sure to have a small cardboard stash at all times for building material. For more kid’s crafts, click here.

Cardboard Rocket Ship

Cardboard Rocket Ship

Hey folks! I didn’t mean to be gone for so long. End-of-year activities completely knocked me off course in the last weeks.

Meanwhile, my five-year-old came up with this project. He designed the whole thing, directing me to cut the box into specific shapes and getting me to help him put it back together with duct tape. It’s a rocket for his Lego guys.

Cardboard Rocket Ship

He often has cardboard construction projects going on, but this is by far his best yet. Next up, the two kids are working together on a shadow puppet theater. Hopefully I can share that soon.

As busy as we’ve been, I’ve found a few minutes here and there to finish up a few of my own projects that were alllllmost done, so I hope to show those to you, too.

Sadly, I did not finish my novel revision on time (my personal deadline was the end of preschool). But, I’m stealing all the minutes I can to keep working. Having a deadline definitely helps, even if it’s already passed me by.

What about you? Have you made any summer plans of things to do with the kids, or for yourself? We started making a list of fun things to do together. What’s on yours?

Secret Messages in Pisa

Maybe it’s all the cameos in spaghetti sauce commercials and movies  (was it Superman II where he straightens it?) but Pisa’s famous tower struck me as surreal, like we’d stepped into a fantasy world. The white stone buildings of the piazza, which we’re guessing had been cleaned recently, really glowed on the day we visited.

The kids called it the “Bendy Tower,” which is actually pretty accurate, since during its construction, the builders tried to correct for the leaning (already apparent) by centering the higher layers on top of the original foundation. Sounds like something I would do with one of my craft projects. So it really does bend. I kept thinking of Miss Havisham’s wedding cake.

No kids under 8 are allowed to go inside the staircase, which disappointed the kids but was fine by me. I often enjoy the outsides of buildings more than the insides anyway.

It’s a little surprising there’s a rule—-most sights in Europe have no restrictions about children, leaving you to make up your own mind. I understand this and appreciate it, but coming from  the super-litigious culture of the U.S., I’ve gotten used to someone else making those decisions for me. At times we’ve been a little confused as to what was really appropriate for the kids.

While the tower was mesmerizing, my favorite thing in Pisa was the exterior of the cathedral next door. The tower is the bell tower for this cathedral. The stones that make up the cathedral are all different sizes and materials, which I found kind of crazy and awesome. Some of them are recycled from other buildings. You can see writing and designs that are now upside down and cut off:

From my reading, I understand the upside-down stuff to be recycled Roman stonework.

Here’s some other writing that must’ve been added after construction, but its placement seems kind of random:

And then there’s the graffiti (another word in my oh-so-extensive Italian vocabulary) scattered around. I guess in the olden days if you wanted to be a graffiti artist, you had to carry around a knife or a chisel or something. If you really wanted to have a lasting impact:

It seemed like these were little hidden messages waiting to be discovered. For someone interested in recycling, patchwork, writing, and printing, it was really cool.

I haven’t had a chance to do much research on the writing and recycled stone, so if you know of articles about it, let me know.

If you enjoyed this post, you may want to take a look at my posts about Volterra and two about Siena: here and here.

Getting Started with Dyes, Part I: Animal Fibers

Want to try dyeing things but don’t know where to start?

A reader wrote me recently asking for help.

Where to start, what to read?

The easiest kind of dyeing to start with is food dye on animal fibers. I love this because you can do it in the kitchen with grocery-store items, the results are super-satisfying, and the kids can join in.

What are animal fibers? Wool, silk, cashmere, you get the idea.

Wool and Cashmere:

You can do some beautiful things with Kool-Aid and wool, and IT WILL NEVER WASH OUT.

Kool-Aid (or Easter egg dye) and wool yarn is a perfect starter project, especially if you knit. You can dye it with a rainbow of colors, using your microwave. The yarn above was dyed with this method. Check out this article on knitty.com for details and instructions. Lion Brand makes an undyed 100% wool yarn called Fisherman’s Yarn that is very reasonably priced. I used to buy it at Hobby Lobby, but it may also be available at Michael’s and other craft stores. Knitpicks also sells undyed yarn, in a wider variety of weights and variations. Their prices are very reasonable also, but you do have to order it. Also try dharmatrading for yarns.

You can dye pieces of old wool or cashmere sweaters in a similar way, but it’s a little tricky—-you should be prepared for uneven results.  Here’s a project of mine with Easter egg dye on cashmere. I would recommend starting with a light-colored sweater and dyeing smaller pieces (an arm or less) at a time, as a sweater acts like a sponge to the dye, absorbing the color before it gets the chance to circulate around the fabric.

The process is similar to the yarn-dyeing project, but use a larger amount of dye and a larger container, on the stove instead of the microwave. I used my big soup pot. The same process should work for wool and cashmere wovens, though I’ve never tried it.

Silk:

Kool-Aid, Easter egg dye, or food coloring also works well on silk. I’ve used it to make playsilks, with the directions here. I’ve also dip-dyed silk scarves, which you can see here. After heat-setting, these dyes are not quite as colorfast as in wool and cashmere, so I would recommend hand-washing. Even so, the colors  bleed very little. Dry out of direct sunlight, or the colors will change.

With any dyeing project, there’s a certain amount of risk involved. You never know exactly what your finished project is going to look like, and for me, that’s part of the thrill. Be prepared for that uncertainty, because even if your project turns out beautifully, chances are it won’t be exactly as you  envisioned.

For part two of this article, about dyeing plant fibers, click here.

Hand-Dyed Patchwork in Progress

I hadn’t planned to share from this work-in-progress until it was done, but then I was inspired by this post, which challenges bloggers (quilting bloggers in particular) to share more of their process, not just finished projects.

So, here I am, showing you a strip from a large patchwork I’m working on. When I do patchwork, I’m not usually interested in following a traditional pattern or in measuring. Some people call this “liberated quilting.” For me it’s about being able to enjoy the process (I hate measuring) and also something we used to talk about it in art class called “showing the artist’s hand.” In painting this often means that the artist has let the brushstrokes show. I enjoy having my patchwork look handmade at first glance. If you’re familiar with the Gee’s Bend quilts, it’s that kind of aesthetic I’m going for.

I also prefer to work with mostly used or scrap fabrics in my patchwork (I keep saying patchwork rather than quilting because this piece is not actually going to be quilted). I think it’s because historically that’s what quilts were made from, and that thriftiness and ingenuity is part of what attracts me to patchwork in the first place. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a beautiful quilt made from new fabrics—-this is just a rule I give myself (and sometimes break, of course). The history of the fabric creates a story behind the project, and it also provides an extra challenge, kind of like painting a still life using only four tubes of paint.

This patchwork is for my son’s duvet cover, and it’s made from his crib sheets, most of which I hand-dyed, and also from the fabric I used in a failed attempt at making a shopping cart cover. You can see one of his crib sheets in this blog post. There’s also a bit of fabric left from making the curtains in his room.

When I was pregnant with my son, I went snorkeling for the first time and was inspired to create a nursery mural of a very simple school of white fish on a grayish-teal backdrop—blogged here. Now that he’s in a big-boy bed, I wanted to make him a new bedcover with a similar theme. I didn’t want to make literal fish but  wanted to keep the feeling of simple white shapes moving over the space. Here’s my sketch for the piece—although I didn’t color it all in so you really can’t tell at this point which parts are going to be white. That part’s in my head. I may or may not follow the sketch entirely.

In addition to the Gee’s Bend quilters, another influence is the work of Malka Dubrawksy, a fiber artist, quilting blogger, and author I admire. Check out her gorgeous work made with fabrics she batiks and dyes herself.

Can’t wait to get some more done so I can show you my progress. Hopefully I’ll finish this before the little man goes to college. And if he doesn’t like it, I’ll hang it on the wall!

It Ain’t Easy Being Green

Actually, it’s not that hard here. 

I’m one of those people who just hates to throw things away, but I love to recycle them. Evidently the Germans do, too. I would say about 75% of packaging we’ve encountered is made of paper or plastic, and it’s all recyclable. You get one sack for paper (blue) and one sack for plastic (yellow). The sacks are picked up once a week. Then there’s about 24% of packaging that’s glass and must either be returned to the store to redeem a deposit or placed in the large neighborhood bins. When you compost your scraps in the bin downstairs (I love this!), you end up with hardly any regular garbage at all. I haven’t yet figured out what we’re supposed to do with cans and tins.

I enjoy looking at all the various packaging. They are very fond of the collapsible carton here–recyclable, of course. I think this egg carton, which also comes in orange, is especially handsome.