Tag Archives: sewing

Play = Healthy Brain

Playing is something that we have always encouraged our children to do – it keeps them entertained, builds social skills and promotes creativity. Although sometimes they have a hard time remembering when it is appropriate to play (ahem…grocery store),  it is one of the many reasons that we have chosen to homeschool our children. There just wasn’t enough time devoted to unstructured play and free choice.  I have encountered the concept of play quite often in the last few weeks and it’s been on my mind daily as I work through my Tinkering class.  There is also much discussion and debate on the elusive definition of play and how it contributes to success (for humans and animals).


Tinkering with the playground water station at The Ringling Museum in Sarasota, FL.

Currently, I am reading the book, Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul by Dr. Stuart Brown. One of the studies that this medical researcher highlights was done by Dr. Marian Diamond. In the 1960s, she studied rats and found that rats who “played” more – lots of new toys and were interactive with other rats – had bigger and more complex brains. Hence, propelling the notion that babies and young children who are exposed to many different enriching experiences may become more well developed (and smarter) adults. Dr. Montessori found the same thing in the early 1900s during her observational studies.

Interestingly enough, Dr. Diamond’s research found that that this “enrichment” was equally beneficial for ALL brains, of ALL ages (which reminds me of the research on how learning a new language is beneficial for your aging brain).  Dr. Brown’s book also suggests that adults need to play as well – though, our play can look a little different – reading, knitting, watching our favorite TV show, etc. Yet, this probably explains why I have been having so much fun tinkering.

My handmade battery-powered bracelet - with wired mini-LEDs.

My handmade battery-powered bracelet – with wired mini-LEDs.

The inside of the bracelet - sewn with conductive thread and attached to a coin battery using parallel circuits.

The inside of the bracelet – sewn with conductive thread and attached to a coin battery (currently missing) using parallel circuits.

This past week, I was introduced to paper and sewn circuits. I love, love, love them. I am starting to comprehend circuitry in a way that I hadn’t with our previous experiments. I have so much more to write about using paper, fabric and conductive thread to create circuits, but I’m not done playing yet. I haven’t quite figured out how everything works and I don’t want to spend time writing about it – I want to get back and continue playing. 🙂

The bracelet is currently pinned, but I want to add metal snaps as a switch, but I need to figure that out first!

The bracelet is currently pinned, but I want to add metal snaps as a switch, but I need to figure out how to do that first!






Books :: Montessori Practical Life Sewing and Knitting

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published every Friday. These reviews will cover computer programming books aimed at children, as well as reality-based children’s books.


Sailboat was selected and embroidered by Calum at age 4.5

Montessori Practical Life Sewing and Knitting

Recently, I have been focusing on books that support a child’s development of practical life skills (see part 1 and part 2). This week the focus is on fiber arts, including those items made entirely by hand from natural materials. In a Montessori classroom, sewing is taught in the primary classroom.  It is also featured quite prominently in the Waldorf educational experience.  In a Montessori primary classroom, the young three-year-old may start with lacing cards and progress from learning how to tie a knot to doing hand embroidery with a design of their choosing. Both of my boys have really enjoyed sewing as part of our “unofficial” homeschool curriculum. One of our past projects can be found here .

Montessori Practical Life sewing - practicing cross-stitch

Calum, age 4, sewing an “x” in the squares of fabric.

Ages 3 and up
Beskow, Ella. Pelle’s New Suit. Floris Books: Edinburgh: 2007.
This picture book is quite old, comes from Sweden and was originally published in the early 1900s. It has recently been reproduced and the colorful pictures are gorgeous. This is an easy-to-read, simple story which explains how wool can become a piece of clothing. Pelle (pronounced Pell-uh) has outgrown his clothes and needs a new suit, except there are no stores that he can buy one from. He must enlist the help of his sheep, his grandmothers, his mother, and the tailor to get a new suit to wear. This book is perfect for your eager three-year-old who wants to know how everything in the world works. For storytime, be sure and get the extra large lap edition. This is one of my favorite books to share with children.

Ages: 3 and up
Roth, Julie Jerslid. Knitting Nell. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Boston, 2006.
This is a sweet, simple story about Nell, an upper elementary student who likes to knit. A lot. She knits all the time and takes her knitting everywhere and while a lot of her friends do not understand why she knits all the time, they accept her for who she is and eventually discover the good deeds she has accomplished (making handknits for the children’s home and war-torn countries). Then, everyone wants to knit. Great, clear illustrations, a perfect introduction to craftivism.


From the hand to the the heart

Our house seems to be a very busy place. I know we don't have the monopoly on activity – in fact, we probably can't even come close to lots of situations. (Especially since I have a cousin who is the mother to four boys). FOUR! Oh goodness…

…but, they love her a lot and are fiercely loyal to her (two are grown up and out the house and they are still this way). I want that for my boys. And, so, I quiet the "messy" voice in my head and turn up the "let's go outside" voice. I try to listen to the "he's learning something" voice. I place special emphasis and value the "homemade" voice the most.

So, of course, we've been busy…

(Winter squash medley for Calum…ready to be frozen)

(a 1st birthday crown for a friend)


And, in my house, homemade can't be complete without a sewing project (or two) left out on the table. Waiting for a few minutes here and there to be eventually be finished.

It's completely normal to listen to the voices in your head, right?

better late than never :: skirt


I finally applied the hem to this "pregnancy" skirt that I started, oh, six months ago. I wore it once with a rough hem and put it aside to work on…it never made it to the sewing pile until I remembered it a few weeks ago. I bought some pre-made bias tape and – voila! – instant hem. (I'm tall and I needed the extra length – AND – my hemlines are never as pretty as I would like).

It was this pattern and I love it. It's the perfect transition between a post-partum and pre-pregnancy body. I used a three-inch piece of elastic rather than the belly band since the first skirt I made hung a bit low and required a l-o-n-g shirt. I do believe that I am in love with elastic skirts. I'm thinking of making another one for everyday wear. I'll let you know if it takes another six months!

Have a great weekend!

A Handmade Fireman Doll


There are a lot of projects out there that I think my son (husband, sister) will like, but I’m never sure. And, most of the time, that’s all right with me. I hardly ever finish a project if I’m not enjoying it. So, even if they don’t like it, I loved making it.

In this case, I thoroughly enjoyed creating this fireman doll from scratch for R – AND – I think that he will just love it. (Not so much with the fishing game).

I have been secretly working on this project for the last two months (it will be an Easter gift). He saw the wooden figure and knew that I was going to make a fireman, but it’s been out of sight, out of mind. Right now, he is really into firemen and looking around, we realized that we were short on people. We’ve got lots of Legos and wooden roads to build, but there’s not a lot of person-to-person interactions going on here.


In typical fashion, I though it might be fun to try and make one for him. I ordered the wooden doll and wool felt from here and used patterns for the jacket and pants from the two books above. The jacket will come off, although the pants are sewn on for good. He can always become someone else who just likes to wear red pants!

But, the hat. Oh, the hat.

A fireman just isn’t a fireman without his hat.

The hat I had to create myself. I’ll admit – it wasn’t easy. It took me
quite a few tries to get it just right (or at least recognizable). But, I had so much fun creating and learning the ways of the small, wooden doll. Maybe, next time he’ll ask for a farmer. I wonder how hard it is to weave 2-inch pieces of straw together…


beauty and the utility quilt

The ins and outs of daily life can be so funny sometimes. Quite often, things work themselves out in a completely different manner that what I was expecting. And, more than likely, it works out just as well or even better than planned.


If I had to choose a way to define my sewing, I would say that I am quilter first and foremost. I was interested in fashion sewing, but fell in love with quilting. One of the only things I sewed for R, as a baby, was his quilt.

Therefore, I was bit bummed (read: feeling tremendously guilty) that I was not going to have time to create a unique quilt for this new baby. The list of projects I wanted to finish was long and I was really enjoying knitting.

I knew I had to cut something off the list and I chose for it to be an elaborate baby quilt. (Oh, the guilt) However, I also knew that a quilt would be useful on the hard floor surfaces that cover most of our home. So, I checked out my fabric stash to see if I could come up with something quick and easy.

Thus, the utility quilt was born. This printed on panel is from a friend who gave it to me over a year ago. It was just sitting there and I had no plans for it.


And, while I briefly thought about machine quilting it myself (seeing as how it was a utility quilt), I decided against it. I’ve only done that once and I wasn’t happy with the results. So, I sent it off to my quilter. I am so glad that I did. She does amazing work and she recognized that her quilting would essentially “make” this quilt.


The beauty of such a utilitarian object astounds me.  I know that we will use the back as often as the front (not something that can always be said about a quilt). She doesn’t have a web site, but can be found through this quilt shop – if you are local.


So, while some of the guilt still remains, I am so happy that this particular project turned out completely differently than I had planned.

A weekend of sewing

The steady hum of the sewing machine filled much of my Sunday. I had a chance to sit and work on some baby-related items, knowing that soon they will be put to good use. I love the anticipation, and yet, the peaceful calm that accompanies those thoughts.


Since this is our first foray into cloth diapering, I made some cloth wipes from some old receiving blankets. I’m not sure how pretty they are, but they should be functional. I do believe that I will be adding ‘serger’ to my Christmas wish list.

While my lovely husband washed my car, (I think nesting is hitting me hard), and ran to the grocery store with our son, I made some nursing pads (based loosely on this pattern) and more of those easy bibs.

It was a very relaxing way to spend a Sunday afternoon – a chance to revel in the stillness and quiet before birth, a chance to reflect upon our anticipation, and a chance to be “useful” in such an artistic way.

Handmade bibs – easy, easy, easy

The pull to the sewing machine has been strong lately. I am constantly rummaging through my fabric stash, wondering, what can I create today? I have made some matching pajama pants for my two babes out of some knit fabric that had found its way to the bottom of the stash. (I had originally intended to make something for my now 8-year-old nephew as a baby – ha!).

Regardless, it found me and I found it and together we made something useful, but I still had some fabric leftover. With a motherly tug of heart, I knew that it would probably not be held over for a third child. And, then, I saw what I could create:


The easiest baby bibs known to man, thankfully modeled by two of R’s stuffed animals. (Seeing as how, at present time,  my baby still enjoys the dark, warmth of my womb).

I found the pattern here, from a very fun sewing blog. Her pattern was easy to use and there was no need to enlarge the print out. Just cut, tape and go.

The pattern does call for snaps and I was a little bit frightened, but after doing some research and finding a video or two, I felt confident enough to give it a try.


As you can see, they are firmly attached and they work! Plus, it was loads of fun to pound on the snap tool with a hammer (even if it meant wrestling the hammer away from my 3-year-old). And, quite frankly, surprisingly easy. It’s funny how simple a process becomes once it is broken down into steps.

So, I may have picked up just a little more flannel at my craft store while purchasing the snap tool today. Maybe.



Cloth Napkins

In an attempt to reduce our garbage consumption (and to save money), I have been buying fewer paper towels.  We've been using tee towels to dry our hands and to dry the fruits and veggies after washing them. Unfortunately, we're still using paper towels to accompany our meals. And, since my husband works from home, and Ronan and I eat at home for most meals, that means a lot of paper towels.

Many years ago, I had bought some cloth napkins for special occasions. I have two of those left and they are in pretty sorry shape. Still, two is better than none and the brief thought crossed my mind, "I should go buy some more cloth napkins."

I do believe that is the least frugal thought I've had in a while. I have a sewing machine. I have scrap fabric in my stash. Why not do it myself?


These were remarkably easy to make and I didn't even use a pattern or strict measurements (sometimes a complete downfall to the actual completion of one of my projects). I guesstimated on size and cut two and sewed them together (right sides together) as if sewing a pillow. I left a hole to flip out the finished product and made a straight stitch 1/4 of an inch from the edge to give it a finished look.

All of these fabrics are 100% cotton – a leftover skirt fabric and some unused quilt backing. They took hardly anytime at all and have created the base for our ever-expanding cloth napkin collection. Of course, they still only last a day or two, but I am currently in the process of raiding my stash…

Handmade toys: the fishing game

In an attempt to add more creative endeavors to our daily lives, I’ve been reading up on the Waldorf philosophy of education and play. This project is from Creative Play for Your Toddler.

When I finished reading through the book, I showed it to R and figured we could go through it together and decide what to make. To my surprise, he wanted to make everything! After the initial browsing, we decided upon a few projects, one of which was the fishing game. This is a game where you attach magnets to a pole and sew steel washers onto the fish. After placing my order for felt, I drew two templates (a big fish and a small fish) and had R choose some colors and I got to work.


(If you look carefully, you can see that the purple fish in the back was just caught)!

I was debating about whether to make any special types of fish and decided to make a striped fish and attempt a clown fish. To make the stripes, I cut out leftover felt scraps and hand-sewed them onto the front before attaching the two pieces. As I was adding stripes to the white fish, my son declares that he does not want a striped fish.


So, I asked him what we should do about it. He said that we could make the other side “just white.”

So, that’s what we did. My adult brain never would have allowed such an abberation, as I had planned on making both sides striped. But, this way he can have a striped fish sometimes and plain fish at other times.

(Just for the record, he helped me set up the picture, and on this day, he wanted the striped fish).


The grey fish with the horizontal stripe is a snook. A Florida favorite. He was suggested by my husband (the sometimes Florida fisherman). So, I made two “real” fish and the rest can become whatever R wants them to be.

I got the steel washers from my father (who has everything known to man) and the magnets were from a game about building patterns. It was difficult to find circular magnets with a hole in the middle at my lcoal hardware stores, although I did see them online here. I would recommend a pretty strong magnet to pick up the fish so your child does not get frustrated with the game.