January 2009

Monthly Archive

Valentine’s Countdown Calendar with Tutorial

Posted by on 15 Jan 2009 | Tagged as: calendar, craft-along, needle-felting, tutorial, Valentine's Day, wool felt

The calendar is finally finished and I’m pretty pleased with the result! Here are some pictures of the final product:

Empty calendar

Calendar with everyone on the tree

If you want to recreate one of your own (for personal use only), here’s what you’ll need:

Supplies:

  • Pattern for the Valentine’s Calendar shapes (PDF)
  • Pattern for the Valentine’s Calendar pockets (PDF)
  • a piece of wool or wool-blend felt (I used light pink in size 8″ x11 5/8″)
  • a piece of flannel for the pocket border (I used brown in size 16 3/4″ x 21,” but would probably do 17″ x 21 1/2″ if I were making another one)
  • scraps of wool or wool-blend felt in various colors to cut into animal shapes, decorations, banner birds and pocket numbers
  • a length of wool or wool-blend felt to form the banner, plus felt for making the birds
  • a sheet of wool or wool-blend felt for the pockets
  • wool roving in assorted colors, most importantly brown and black, as well as colors for the tree, grass and animals (In addition to brown, black and green, I used orange, gray, light pink, dark pink, white, red, blue, purple, yellow)
  • a piece of very thick cardboard (so a staple won’t go all the way through), sized a little smaller than your flannel

Tools:

  • felting needles and foam pad, a tool to hold the felting needles is recommended
  • stapler
  • small, sharp scissors for fabric
  • large scissors or blade for cutting cardboard
  • needle
  • pen for tracing patterns on fabric
  • fabric glue

Techniques:

  • needle-felting — If this is your first time needle-felting, don’t be intimidated. I have needle-felted the wool onto my little sheep ornaments and I have a somewhat failed attempt to needle-felt a pumpkin, but that’s my entire needle-felting resume
  • blanket-stitching — there’s a great tutorial here

Step 1. Create the tree
In order to create the tree, first lay a very thin layer of roving in your leaf colors on your background felt on the foam pad. I recommend using at least two shades of the same color for your leaves and really teasing the wool apart to make it thin. Then lay a thick layer of dark brown roving — the more shade variations the better — to form your trunk and main branches. Pull apart the wool as you continue to create forks and more branches. I curved the branches to form a sort of of lower arc beneath the leaves for a rounded look, but you can make your tree into anything you like. Here is what mine looked like at this stage:

Valentine tree before needle-felting

For my browns, I have a wonderful bag of alpaca roving our friends Charlie and Sarah of Pearbudget fame brought me from their alpaca farm neighbors. It’s a great assortment of various browns mixed together, so when I formed the tree, it happened by accident that the very dark brown followed the curve of the tree and the lowest branch on the right. I remember Michelle teaching me how to draw trees as a child. By drawing the line darker and thicker on one side of the tree and on the lowest branch corresponding to that side, she showed me how to create a shadow, giving my tree more depth and realism. While it happened accidentally this time, I would try to recreate it if I made another one.

The next step is to actually needle felt the tree and leaves onto the background. Try to keep your needle(s) straight so they don’t break. Basically just poke around in the roving, shaping branches and roots as you go. The fibers will be pulled through to the other side and sort of knitted into the felt background. I added more branches in the center, and you can always add more — needle-felting is mostly very forgiving, though the needles are not, so be careful! Here’s what mine looked like after that stage:

Valentine tree after leaf background and tree felting

I then added a couple of layers of leaf colors over the whole tree and needle-felted those, though not as intensely as I did the trunk, to leave a more airy feel to them. Here’s a picture, though I ended up adding a little more roving at the top to give it a rounder feel:

Valentine tree with leaves felted

Finally, I added a little green grass around the roots. Voila! The tree is done!

Step 2. Create the animals and other pocket goodies
Print out the animal pattern, cut out the shapes, trace them onto felt, and cut out the pieces. I chose colors of felt that wouldn’t look odd if edges of them showed around the needle-felting. This is where you will discover how free-form needle-felting is, and how it will sometimes lead to masterpieces and sometimes, well, sometimes not.

For each animal, pick the colors of roving you want. I would usually felt a very thin layer of roving to hide the base felt, and then start adding a little dimension by shaping and needle-felting on additional roving for the tails or ears or faces. By patiently needle-felting repeatedly along the same line, you can create indentations to give your work more form and depth.

Here are the animals and other pocket inhabitants. Just start with the felt base and see where your needling takes you!

mushroom and flower
Mushroom Flower

bird and mouse
Bird 2 Mouse

robin and butterfly
Bird 1 Butterfly

lollipop and owl
Lollipop Owl

heart and squirrel
Heart Squirrel

hedgehog and rabbit
Hedgehog Rabbit

deer and fox
Deer Fox

I made the lollipop by rolling two thin strips of different color roving into skinny snakes, then twisting them together before felting them to the base in a spiral pattern. I loved some of these, felt sort of “meh” about others and really didn’t like the poor squirrel. He was an example of when adding more and more roving to try to fix a mistake just makes things worse. Tony could not identify his species, so I think that qualifies him as a fail. I didn’t have the right color brown for the deer, and the tiny flower was difficult to give much detail, but I love, love, love the fox, all curled up in that bushy, snuggly tail of his. See, I wasn’t just being modest about the squirrel.

Step 3. Create the pockets and numbers
Print out and cut out the pockets and numbers. Before proceeding, check to make sure your needle-felted pocket inhabitants would actually fit in the pockets, in case you’ve added more roving or detail than I did. Add a little allowance if this is the case when you trace the pockets. For the numbers, I found it helpful to trace them backwards so that I didn’t need to worry about pen marks showing up on the fronts.

Cut out the pockets and numbers. I used fabric glue to glue the numbers onto the pockets, being sure to stay far enough away from sides and bottom to allow for stitching the pockets onto the border with large blanket-stitching. You can also stitch them on if you have an extra forty hours or so that you weren’t sure how to spend.

Step 4. Create the bird banner border
Print out the banner, bird and small banner heart patterns, cut them out and trace them onto felt. Carefully plan out the spacing for Happy Valentine’s Day. I’d recommend using a very thin pen or pencil because I free-handed it and ended up having to cut off a bit of the end of the banner, which meant I also had to reshape my birds a bit. It wasn’t a big deal, but the letter stitching was not very enjoyable since I kept wondering where it would end and I also started to make the letters in different sizes and had to backtrack a few times. I used 6-ply embroidery floss for the letter-stitching. After I had stitched the letters, I added a heart at each end of the banner, blanket-stitching them on with one-ply floss.

For the birds, I needle-felted a bit of roving onto their bellies, and also needle-felted their beaks and eyes, but chose to leave the rest of them as just wool felt.

Step 5. Create the pocket border
Now you have your finished tree picture, your animals, your pockets and your banner, but you still need a border. Take your piece of flannel and center the tree picture on it. Spend as much time as you need to lay out the pockets around the picture and the bird banner along the top. You can tuck the raw end of the birds’ wings a little under the banner. Be patient while planning the layout. Remember to leave enough room along the edges to wrap it around the cardboard for stapling and make sure there’s enough space between the pockets that little fingers can reach in and pick out the inhabitant.

Once you have your layout just the way you want it, use just enough fabric glue to hold everything on until you can stitch it. Make sure not to glue the middle of the pockets, since they will need to be open. Just add a thin layer of glue along the edge, preferably so close to the edge that you won’t be stitching through it with your blanket stitch, which can be rough when the glue has dried hard. For the center tree picture, you can put the glue a little further in to miss the stitches, but it should be close enough to the edge that you’ll be able to stitch evenly without bunching the flannel.

The stitching is pretty time-consuming, but can be done snuggled on the couch under a blanket watching a movie, which is my favorite kind of crafting! I used fairly deep blanket stitches to hold the pockets on, since I figured they’d get a little wear and tear with little fingers reaching in for their treasures. Just be sure they aren’t so deep that the treasures no longer fit in the pockets! I used medium-length stitches for the tree picture, and tiny stitches for the banner and birds.

Finally, place the entire calendar over your piece of cardboard, cutting the cardboard so that it is large enough to form a background for the pockets and banner, with a little flannel along the edges, but small enough that you can wrap some flannel around it and staple it to the back. My piece of cardboard ended up being about 15″ x 19 1/4″ for my 16 3/4″ x 21″ piece of flannel. When I said in the supply list that I would have used a slightly larger piece of flannel, that was just to I would have a little bit more to wrap around and staple. Though it may hold just fine with the size I have. Here’s what the back looks like:

Back of calendar

Step 6. Fill the pockets and enjoy

The pocket inhabitants *should* stick to the wool, but mine aren’t doing it terribly reliably.  If I sort of rub them against the picture, they stick a little better.  That’s why I decided to make a cardboard back, so that I could lean it back a little, instead of having a wall hanging, which was my original intention.

Here is a picture of the calendar with full pockets:

Full calendar

And here is one with everyone peeking out of the pockets:
Calendar with everyone peeking

I have to thank my sweet husband, who spent hours scanning and reconfiguring pdfs, programming code, photographing the steps and keeping the kids busy while I worked.  I couldn’t have done it without him!

Enjoy, and please leave a comment if you decide to make one — I’d love to see them!

Happy Crafting!

So, deadlines, huh?

Posted by on 15 Jan 2009 | Tagged as: about me

All right, I missed the January 14th deadline, which is/was as of 30 minutes ago also my birthday. I spent a beautiful day with family and friends, and received calls, e-mails and greetings from around the world. And I crafted. A LOT. But the calendar is just not quite done. I’m hoping with some serious crafting time tomorrow evening, I’ll have it done in time to post on January 15th, and the tutorial will follow shortly!

Chile Llama Farm

Posted by on 12 Jan 2009 | Tagged as: family, friends, gardening, local food, winter

My friend Melissa and I made habit of frequenting the little farmer’s market that opened near her house last spring, and our favorite vendor is Kevin, a very kind, helpful and talkative man whose small-scale farming operation is called Chile Llama Farm.

The end of farmer’s market season here has been rough. Although our freezer is stocked full enough to eat vegetarian chili once a week and pesto twice a week until next July, we miss the vast quantities of fresh veggies we had at our disposal from May-early December. Here’s a one-week haul from our CSA last summer (and that’s not counting our additional veggies from Chile Llama):

Farmer's Market Haul 6/28/08

After New Year’s, I called Kevin, and he said he had enough lettuce and spinach for our two families to come out and pick our own. We were thrilled and drove out to see him on Saturday, which dawned a beautiful, cold and sunny day. The following pictures were taken by Melissa and her husband Christian.

Our girls had a wonderful time eating “candy carrots,” as the organic gardener Elliot Coleman calls them. In winter, the carrots that are still in the ground freeze, and their starch turns to sugar. I’m afraid the girls didn’t leave any for Kevin!

Harvesting Candy Carrots

Candy carrot

Lucas was mostly interested in playing with the rainwater collection containers and other farm gear, but also tried his hand at picking lettuce.

Little man

Chile Llama lettuce

We had a wonderful time, enjoying the moment, but also enjoying the ripple effect of our children knowing where their food grows, and the wonderful, fresh, organic veggies we’d be eating over the next few days. (Tonight’s dinner was pasta with raw cherry tomato sauce out of our freezer, fresh Chile Llama spinach sauteed with garlic and Chile Llama greens with a vinaigrette dressing. We also roasted Chile Llama beets for tomorrow, one of our little ones’ favorite foods.) It was just a wonderful, beautiful day.

Future farmers

More fun with friends

Fun with friends

Right about this time of year, I start getting the urge to sit down with seed catalogs and plan our garden. And in two months, we’ll be able to start planting! But tonight, I’ll be working on the Valentine’s Day Countdown Calendar. It’s coming along nicely, but I may have a couple of late nights to have it done by Wednesday!

Mama to Mama

Posted by on 09 Jan 2009 | Tagged as: craftivism

This bit of goodness in the world had me in tears tonight as I tried to read this post to Tony. Whatever comes next for Mama to Mama, you can bet these sisters will be participating, and I hope you will join us.

Little Sheep Handmade

Posted by on 09 Jan 2009 | Tagged as: animal crafts, needle-felting, wool felt

My sweet little sheep has proven pretty popular, so I thought I’d post a little about how I made him (and his fellow sheep).  The body of the sheep is just a simple sheep shape cut out of white felt, along with two white felt ears.  I then blanket-stitched him to the background and embroidered his facial features.  The blanket-stitching was the most time-consuming part; the easiest was needle-felting a bit of wool onto his body.  I got the general idea from this precious book, which has so many inspiring wool felt projects and little bendy dolls (I’ll share some of those in another post). The sheep in this book also has a sleepy little embroidered face, but his fleece is made of french knots rather than wool roving. Honestly, I’ve never been able to master french knots, so I redesigned him a bit (i.e. took the easy way out), and I’m really pleased how he turned out.

IMG_4521cropped

Originally, the sheep was meant to decorate a little felt purse from the book, but he was just too charming to only make one. This year we created sets of handmade ornaments for our families, and I couldn’t resist including a little sheep in each set. As with any handmade item, each sheep looked a little different, had a little different charm, and in the end, it seemed almost a shame to separate the flock. But then I thought of each going to hang on the tree of one of my flock, a small bond in a world in which we all live too far apart.

IMG_4517

Here they all are, waiting to be packed up and sent off for Christmas. Each one a little gift of heartfelt handmade.

Winter Nature Table

Posted by on 06 Jan 2009 | Tagged as: nature table, winter

IMG_4831

Our winter nature table is a little barren compared to our autumn one, but I guess that, too, is a reflection of the season.  Mia, my four-year-old, helped me spread the wool snow through the branches of our little tree before excitedly calling her Dada down to see it.  That night, before going to bed, she told him spreading the snow in the branches had been her favorite part of the day, a gentle reminder how valuable the little things can be.

IMG_4832

IMG_4833

Below the tree, there is a beautiful crystal candle Michelle gave us years ago, along with a little branch of holly.  Although it’s out of season, I kept the salvia I dried last summer in a small vase; the muted gray-green and purple seemed to fit winter better than the other seasons.

On the next shelf, Mother Nature should be wearing a dark brown cloak for winter, but the cloak and the other root child must be hiding somewhere in the playroom.  I made the Mother Nature doll from a pattern out of this wonderful book, and the root children were adapted from a pattern in that book as well.

From the fall nature table, I kept the little felted hedgehog we picked up at a Waldorf school fair and the little sphagnum moss tree Mia made at the botanical gardens.

IMG_4834

Little felted gnomes, also from the Waldorf school, inhabit the next shelf, along with a sheep I made and the Winter book in our beloved, beautifully-illustrated seasons series by Eva-Maria Ott-Heidmann.

The bottom shelf has an assortment of winter books.  Mia loves books, and we have quite the collection, but she was overjoyed to find the winter ones on display.  She spent the afternoon bringing me one after another to read to her.  Unlike Mia, for whom a book would stop a full-blown crying fit when she was as little as two months old, Lucas hasn’t shown nearly as much interest in books.  So it was to my delight that he brought me The Mitten and had me read it twice in a row. At 18 months, he’s still not really saying anything, but he sneezed along with the bear and then cackled, pleased with himself.

I’ll post a little bit about our winter books in the next day or so. Some of them are beautiful classics from my childhood, others are just sweet stories to share on a cold afternoon like today! We’re planning a trip to the library this week, so if anyone has any wintry recommendations, we’d love to hear them!

If you haven’t been over to Big Sister Handmade today, Michelle has some great new posts up! I had better get to work on that countdown calendar!  Thanks for visiting!

Saying goodbye to the fall nature table

Posted by on 04 Jan 2009 | Tagged as: autumn, nature table

I first read about nature tables when my daughter was just a baby.  I fell in love with the concept of a beautiful little spot indoors that reflected the changing of the seasons and I always had the best intentions of creating one for our family.  As each season arrived I’d find myself unprepared, until finally last summer, as my daughter turned four, I decided to craft a season ahead.  I stalked craigslist until I found the perfect corner shelf, whose lower shelves even the baby could reach, but whose upper shelves would be safe from little fingers.  I pushed aside my guilt over not having a spot for beautiful seashells and other summer treasures, and instead focused on fall.

2008 Fall Nature Table

2008 Fall Nature Table Detail

We have so very much enjoyed our nature table over the last few months.  It’s in the corner of our dining room and often the subject of much attention during the day.  Preschool fall art projects surrounded it, and it amassed quite a collection of pinecones under it from the tree in our front yard.

Winter’s arrival, during the busy holiday season, left me once again unprepared, with little to put on a winter nature table.  Luckily, a bleak nature table is not an entirely inaccurate reflection of the season, so I was just left with the task of putting away our little autumn treasures until next year.

Fall Nature Table Box

I took an unfinished wooden box and painted the bottom brown.  I mixed up my own decoupage mixture with glue and just a little water and used some fall leaf napkins to decorate the top and sides of the box.  It didn’t turn out quite as I had intended.  I should have either been more careful, by making sure the napkin pieces met to create whole leaves, or less careful, by having random bits at odd angles.  The flash of the camera highlighted the glue around the leaves on the sides of the box, but that’s not nearly as noticeable as it appears in the picture.  In any case, it will do to house our little treasures until next fall.

Fall Nature Table Box Contents

We have a couple more little things to add to our winter nature table, but I should be able to share some pictures of it in the next day or two.  And then in February, I’ll start the spring nature table crafting!  Bleak won’t cut it for spring!

Announcing our first craft-along: A Valentine’s Day countdown calendar

Posted by on 03 Jan 2009 | Tagged as: craft-along, Valentine's Day

We’re ready to start on our first craft-along and we’ve chosen to make a Valentine’s Day Countdown calendar.  The only guidelines are to have some sort of countdown to Valentine’s Day for the first fourteen days in February and to have it completed by January 14th.  It can be two-dimensional, three-dimensional, out of paper, fabric, wood — anything you like!  We’ll post our calendars with tutorials on January 14th, giving anyone who wants to make one enough time to do so before February.  Feel free to link to your own calendars in the comments and remember to photograph the process if you’d like to post a tutorial.  We will definitely feature our favorites!!  Stay tuned in the meantime for other crafty goodness.  Happy crafting!

Hello World!

Posted by on 01 Jan 2009 | Tagged as: about me

Hi, I’m Emily, the little sister in Little Sister Handmade.  Michelle is my big sister.  Growing up in Germany, where crafting is as much a part of life as fresh-baked bread or coffee and cake in the afternoon, we always dreamed about one day opening a little craft store together.  Now that we are grown, with families of our own, we sadly find ourselves 1,658 miles apart.  This Christmas, we decided we wouldn’t let a little distance stop us from crafting together, and so Little Sister Handmade and Big Sister Handmade were born.

Through these sites, we hope to share a little bit about our days, and mostly our crafting, with each other and with you.  There will be craft-alongs and tutorials, recipes and photographs.  We hope you will find some joy and inspiration here, and we hope you will share some of your joy and inspiration with us.  Welcome!

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