I adore Autumn!  The colors of Fall are my colors, and I'm not sure my house ever looks better than it does in the autumn.  One of my favorite decor items are gourds - mostly just the plastic kind from craft stores, but I do have a few pretty real dried ones I've bought.  Last year, my wonderful neighbor noticed my love of gourds and brought me a bunch of fresh gourds from the garden.  They were beautiful!  (I wish I'd taken pictures)

 I had about a dozen assorted sizes and shapes that I spread throughout my different Fall arrangements.  After Thanksgiving, I didn't want to just throw them out, so I decided to try my hand at drying out and preserving the gourds.  I did some research online and went to work.  I set aside an area in my backyard and set the gourds out to dry.  From what I read, the main concerns are air circulation and moisture drainage.  The gourds can't sit in water, and they must have constant air circulation.  Temperature can change - they can even freeze - but no standing water or stagnant air.

As the water leaves the gourds, mildew forms on the surface and then dies.  This creates designs on the skin that discolors the gourd.  In order to minimize this effect, I tried one of the suggestions to periodically wash my gourds with a bleach-water solution to remove the mildew build-up.  Even though I read that it was ok for the gourds to freeze, I was afraid of how wet they'd stay in the snow, so I moved them inside to my basement after they got past the initial wettest stage (which my kids call the "stinky" part).  Despite equal treatment, at the point of moving to the basement, my gourd count was down by half.  None of my gourds that were similar to pumpkins in shape made it - they got mushy and rotted.  One of the instructions I read explained that in order to dry a gourd, it needs to have a stem of at least 2 inches long.  My gourds with stems fared best, so this is good advice.  After their time in the basement, the surviving gourds were down to 3.  They are a good three though, so I'm still happy!

The largest of the three gourds is my favorite of the whole group, and I knew I wanted to do something special with it.  I read about carving gourds, painting gourds, staining gourds - WOW - I had no idea of the gourd crafting out there!  But what I had in mind was a little bit different.
This is what my gourd looked liked when it was all dried and ready to go.  I read that it needed to be prepped by rubbing it down with some steel wool, however, my husband used all our steel wool to stuff any exterior holes to prevent voles from burrowing around our house, so I resorted to a super-fine sandpaper.  It took off any of the peeling skin left from the drying process and prepared the surface to receive paint.  I should note that when the gourd is dry, it is very lightweight and often rattles with the dried seeds inside.  It feels very fragile, but I've read that it is as hard as some woods.
After my gourd was sanded, I drew designs on it with pencil.  Then I carefully traced over my pencil designs with hot glue.  This was quite the adventure since by the end my hand and arm were shaking from trying to hold steady and get a smooth bead the whole time!  When I look at this project, I can instantly see the difference between where I started and where I ended based on the quality of the line!
Here is a close-up of the design on the surface of the gourd.
Next I spray-painted my little friendly gourd.  The first coat of paint I wasn't too smart and sat it on the ground.  For the next coat I wised-up and hung it in our tree so I could get the bottom too.  I thought I was going to stick with this color, and even finished it up with this color, but then ended up not liking it after a couple of days living with it.  I didn't like it glossy, and the color was just not as deep as I wanted it.  So I grabbed an acrylic dark brown that I had on hand and brushed on a coat.
To achieve the final finished look, I used a watered down antique gold acrylic paint to create a wash that would make the design stand out and give it a little sparkle.  I'm still wondering if I should have gone a little darker with the brown, but overall I'm quite pleased with my silly little gourd project!  I'm so glad my fabulous neighbor brought me some fun gourds so I could play!!  Not quite as pretty as when they're fresh out of the garden - all harvesty goodness, but still fun.

It has been a LONG while since I've posted anything, which is very sad.  I have so many fun things to share that have been put on the back burner.  Why?  One word: HALLOWEEN!  We are crazy people when it comes to Halloween around our house.  I sew nonstop to create costumes for my kids and sometimes for my husband and myself if there's time (hardly ever is!).  There have been years when I question if it's worth it.  If all that work for one silly holiday is just plain ridiculous.
But halloween is actually the origins of my sewing skills (well, there was that skirt I made in 4H as a girl, and the tote-bag I made in home-ec, but does that really count?).  Costumes are a safe, fun place for beginning sewing because mistakes are ok, puckers are overlooked, sleeves can be different lengths and no one cares, and everything - EVERYTHING can be fastened with velcro eliminating the need for those nasty buttonholes and terrifying zippers!
So I made costumes for my babies and toddlers, who grew quickly into kids who now think I can make anything and every year push that to new limits.  Someday I'm going to have to utter the words, "I can't," but until that day, halloween makes me supermom - and since, like every other mom out there, I feel completely inadequate every day, being supermom for a while feels great!  I can't keep up on their homework, there's always at least one kid who hates what I make for dinner, I'm never sure if I should force the chores or let them play, I'm always conflicted between work and time with kids, I'm always a little bit late and a lot of energy short to be the mom I want to be - but at Halloween, I rock!  And the reward is the joy I get from seeing how much fun my kids have becoming whatever they've chosen to be that year.  They move differently, they talk differently, they get to live a day in imagination and I love it.
I hope to get a bunch of fun posts up soon, but in the meantime, I'm posting pics of the costumes that have kept me from blogging (or cleaning, or doing laundry, or eating.....) for the past several weeks :)  Maybe I'll even get around to posting some of my costumes of the past sometime - a gallery of insanity!
My youngest was Cinderella - obviously.  This costume was made using Simplicity 4764 for the dress, a modified sleeve I designed myself, and the peplum from McCalls 6420.  The bodice design I made up and painted in puffy fabric paint sprinkled with super-fine glitter  - there are also Swarovski crystals throughout the design. 

The headband is made in the same way I made my nautical headbands, with craft foam covered in fabric - and then painted, glittered and bejeweled to match the bodice of the dress.  The gloves were store-bough child stretch satin that I modified to slim down and actually fit. 

Under the dress is a full slip with net ruffles for fullness.  I also made a white polar fleece cloak trimmed in that curly fleece stuff that looks like fur but feels silky - that way the costume doesn't get covered u by a pink parka for trick-or-treating and ruin the whole princess look.

One more funny note - the choker, a necessary Cinderella element, is actually a bra strap I saved when the bra broke :)  My husband mocks me for saving everything, but it's times like these I am justified.  I wanted the necklace to be elastic, so it would fit snuggly without being restrictive like ribbon would be.  But most elastic is dull and looks, well, like elastic.  The bra strap had a satin finish, was elastic, and was absolutely perfect!  Sew on a snap, & voila! 

The next daughter was another Disney Princess - and probably my favorite of all time too!  I was really excited to do a Merida costume.  It was really difficult finding fabric the right color, and I'm still bummed that I had to go with satin - I wanted something that looked closer to a homespun - but it is just a costume, after all.  And the satin worked out pretty.  

I used McCalls 5499, which is perfect for the dress, but I still had to figure out those really crazy sleeves.  I opted to put in a full under sleeve rather than a false poof at the elbow & shoulder.  This gave her a level of movement and comfort as well as realism.  The undershirt at the neck is just an inset though.  

The wig is store-bought, the bow is home-made (and likely my next post!).
Of course, Merida also has to have a cloak, and though the color here was a problem again, I was finally able to find a fantastic shade of green-grey polar fleece.

My oldest daughter wanted to be a pirate, which was a very exciting costume to make.   I was surprised at the lack of female pirate costumes (especially any that weren't skanky) for ideas.  This one is a combination of patterns.  The shirt is from a pajama pattern, Simplicity 4767, with cuffs and lace ruffle added at the wrists and lace at the neck.  The vest is actually from a fairy costume pattern, McCalls 4887, but made out of a lightweight printed leather.   It has a high waist with an almost full circle skirt attached.  Mine overlaps to button, which differs from the pattern.  I love the vest so much I'm not putting it away as a costume, I've put it in her closet to wear with jeans! The skirt is super fun - McCalls 6391 view C.  It is actually a giant rectangle that is tacked up in specific places to an under-skirt stay.  Boots and hat were Savers finds (I added the lace to the hat), and the belt we've had in our dress-up for so long I can't even remember where it came from.  The attitude this costume gave this girl is delightful!

If you're not sure, this is Frodo Baggins.  He's wearing a shirt made from Butterick 5656, (out of an torn sheet, btw! I love repurposing!!).  The vest is McCalls 4290, and turned out a little shorter than I planned, but if you won't tell him, I won't!  The cloak is, again, polar fleece (I make up my own pattern for cloaks - I try to get as much of a circle as I can with whatever fabric I end up buying, and then use the leftover edges to make a hood.  No hemming or anything - just cut, attach the hood, sew on a clasp, and go!)  

The feet were the hardest part.  Anyone know how to make feet?  But a hobbit in shoes just isn't a hobbit!  I found a couple of cool ideas online, but way out of my price range.  So I used a tan felt and trial and error.  What I ended up with was an upper section inspired by a felt slipper pattern with a seam down the center for shape.  Then I designed a bare-foot toe section and cut it out - just the toes, I wanted the bottom totally open so the whole thing would go over his shoe.  I sewed the flat toe section to the slipper upper section, right sides together.  Turning the toes right side out, I sewed up about an inch in between each "toe".   A little stuffing in each toe bulked them out and gave them shape.  I used furry fleece for the hobbit hair on top of the feet.  The overshoe worked well through the day's activities, but by trick-or-treating, as you may notice, they were getting floppy - sort of stretched out.  So I just grabbed some clear tape and taped them to the shoe for the night and we were fine :).

He started growing his hair out about two months ago to try for the long, curly hobbit hair, but since his hair is stick-straight, he had to sleep in curlers for the curly part.  I was kind and didn't take any pictures!

Finally, I found the One Ring to Rule them All on Amazon for $7.  Free shipping :)  Frodo should have thought of that - he could have just shipped it to Mordor!
Not many pics of my oldest.  He's at the age where he's not quite sure what he's supposed to be doing with Halloween.  So a grim reaper robe works well, with some creepy gloves I had when I was his age!  It depended on when you asked him, what he said he was - which I found hilarious.  Sometimes he was a reaper, sometimes he was a ring-wraith, sometimes he was just scary.

I love pook a looz plush toys, and used that style as my inspiration when I designed my scriptural character puppets.  The simplicity of the wide-set, simple oval eyes, the lack of or minimal other facial features, all give the faces a charm that makes me smile.  Pook a looz are slightly melancholy, but in a sweet and vague way that is just enchanting!  That was exactly the feeling I was hoping to capture, and felt was lovely and appropriate for scriptural figures.

 Since my purpose in making the puppets was to teach the song "Nephi's Courage", and the song has specific characters in the lyrics, I made Nephi, Laban, Laman & Lemuel, and a boat to teach the first two verses. My kids are already requesting the rest of Lehi's family (at least)! And it is pretty obvious that if I wanted to, Laman or Lemuel could double as Noah, and the boat could be an ark - opening up the possibility of Bible story play as well.
Really, though I've never missed scripture puppets in my life - never sat around thinking, "oh man! If only I had some handpuppets of scriptural characters!" I have found already so many family and church uses for these fun guys that I'm so glad now that I have them!

Materials & Pattern
Now, if you're like me, when an idea strikes, I want to get going, not go shopping, so I used materials on hand.   I'm not sure that if I were BUYING supplies that I'd chose the same exact colors or fabrics, so don't feel restricted by what I chose - go crazy!  I love the way my turned out, and I'm just so glad that I don't ever throw anything away, but a whole craft/fabric store of options would be too much fun!

Start off with either fleece or felt - maybe about 3/8 of a yard.  I used fleece remnants (again, because I had it - also because it's soft).  Why fleece or felt?  They don't fray and you can sew them leaving the seams exposed rather than having to edge finish and turn inside out.  Faster, easier.  It is a definite look to leave the seams around the edges with the top stitching rather than hidden seams - but I like it for the "ancient" puppets.  You could turn the seams for a more finished look.

The body is cut from the main color, head and hands from whatever flesh color you like.  For bearded characters I worked out a beard shape, which I cut out of fleece of varying fancy furry styles or plain fleece in hair tones.  Trims and chording make belts, headbands, whatever clothing decor your creativity can come up with. The last bit you'll need is a head scarf, in two pieces, out of a remnant of fleece, felt or a non-fraying knit. Trims, ribbon and rick-rack make excellent headbands.

You'll also need some polyester fiberfill and black embroidery floss.

print pattern sheets on 8 1/2 x 11
The shape of the body may seem a little strange, but really it's not.  Just think that the puppet's head is stuffed, and the fingers need somewhere to go to support the head, and suddenly the shape of the body makes perfect sense.

A diagram of the pieces,
1- Attach the hands to the body.  This one IS done right sides together (I know I said earlier that it's all done with top-stitching, but this is an exception.  Hands are put on right sides together).

Sword made out of 1/2 inch silver ribbon,
simply cut to shape and top-stitched
2- Tack any trims or decorations to the body (if it's something like a waistband, that will get caught into the side seams when the body sections are sewn together, tacking in place is all that is necessary.  If it is something that does NOT get caught in the side seams - such as Laban's sword - sew down permanently rather than simply tacking).

3- Once the hands are attached and the body is accessorized as you'd like it, sew all around the body, wrong sides together, leaving the bottom open, taking the smallest seam allowance you feel comfortable with.

Set the body aside for now.

4- Sew the head pieces together, wrong sides together, leaving the bottom (neck) open.  (Optionally, if you'd like to embroider the eyes on before sewing the front of the head to the back of the head, you can do that.  I like to wait until after the beard is on and the head is stuffed so that my eye placement ends up exactly where I want it to be.  But if it's easier to put the eyes on the separate face piece, now is the time!)

5- If the character has a beard, pin it in place and sew around on the same stitching line as around the head, from dot at cheek, around the top of the head to dot at other cheek.  Sew across the top (lip) of the beard by hand with a running stitch, so as not to go through both layers of the head - it should just end up tacked to the face, not the back of the head.

6- Stuff the head and attach to body by hand using a running stitch.  I just left the raw edges and let my running stitch show, as I had done with the machine sewn parts - but feel free to turn the edges under and slip stitch for a neater, cleaner look.

7- For the head scarf, attach headband to the front (half moon shaped) section.  Then sew the two pieces together - this time right sides together - and turn right side out.  Hand stitch in place by "stitching in the ditch" - in other words working your stitches through the seam of the scarf and attaching to the top of the puppet's head.  I tried just tacking the head scarf on in two spots, but it was QUICKLY dismantled by little hands - so I recommend stitching all the way along the top of the scarf.

8- Finally the face.  I like to leave the face till last to make sure the eyes don't end up too high or too low relative to the scarf or the beard or whatever - since those shift around in sewing and nothing ever ends up perfectly where you plan it.  The charm of the pook-a-looz is the simplicity of features.  Just eyes, or eyes and a distinguishing feature that adds expression.  Mark where the eyes should go with a pencil, then, using all strands of black embroidery thread, add eyes using a satin stitch - starting at the top of the eye, increasing length of the stitch, then decreasing at the bottom of the eye to make an oblong shape.  Laban is "wicked," so he gets evil eyebrows and a shady mustache.
Details like Laban's brass plates are added on at the very end.  I made my "plates" out of craft foam, laced with beading wire and painted with pseudo-Egyptian characters.

The Boat
Since the second verse of the song has a boat - I designed a simple boat that the kids could use as a visual/ puppet show prop.  Then it was my daughter, Lily's idea that I actually make the boat double as puppet storage!  Clever girl!  The boat base is craft foam.  Then I simply topped it with a layer of batting and brown fleece - machine quilting in windows.  Another piece of fleece becomes the hull of the boat - sewn top-stitches in bright yellow give some "planks," before it is top-stitched on as well and the whole thing zig-zagged around to seal the edges which were fuzzy white from the batting (not boat-like at all).

So those are my first scripture puppets! I can't wait to try some female characters!  And I'm SURE my kids will have ideas for other favorite scripture stories they want to enact - so off we go back to the scrap box!  Send me your ideas and pics if you try these - especially if you do get some women done.  I'd love to see them!!
Happy Pioneer Day!  For anyone not from Utah, Pioneer Day is our State Day, and we celebrate the founding of the area by early pioneer settlers.  In honor of the pioneer fun, I'd like to share a couple of crafts I've done with my kids over the past couple of years that are appropriately themed.

Handcart Races
Now, I've been on a pioneer reenactment trek, and it is not a whole lot of fun to pull an actual handcart, but it is fun to make and play with these cute little carts!  I started off with a couple of Jiffy muffin boxes for cart bodies.  There are some paper templates online for origami handcarts, but I wanted something a little more solid - and most importantly, I wanted something that would actually roll.

The Jiffy mixes were just about right, but a little too oblong.  First off, I cut the front of the boxes off, opening up the bed of the cart.  Then I cut just about an inch of the length, cut slits at the folds the same length as the depth of the cart bed, and folded the sides in and the back up - glueing to close it all in.   I chose to paint my handcart boxes (actually I had my kids do it - they LOVE to paint anything, even if it's just boring brown), but they could alternately be covered in paper.

 The wheels are the most important part!  For the wheels, I used an empty ribbon spool, cut in half. I had to use a craft knife, and it was still pretty tricky, but it gave me a beautiful, sturdy, perfectly round wheel with a nice hub to keep the wheel from sitting too tightly against the handcart so that the wheels turn freely.  For the axle, I had to experiment a little to get the placement right.  It is NOT placed right in the center.  The balance, once the handle is added, does not work.  After looking at diagrams of real handcarts, I decided to place my axle a little forward of center - about half an inch.  My axle and handle are made of wooden BBQ skewers, cut to size (be careful here - when you cut them, the ends tend to fly around the room.  my kids love this phenomenon, but I find it a little dangerous).  The skewer must extend out of each wheel about a quarter of an inch.  I blacked out any writing on my wheels with a sharpie, then cut spokes out of cardstock and glued them on.  The whole wheel is finished off with a pony bead glued securely over the end of the skewer axle. Hot glue works great.

 The handle is attached in exactly the same way, using pony beads to secure the skewers that have been poked through holes in the box, only this time on the interior of the cart.  Then I took cross-lengths of skewers and glued them across, finishing up the handle.

Once I had two carts done, the races could begin.  This has become quite the favorite!  I use foam shape beads, but marshmallows or any small object would work.  Each participant is given equal amounts of whatever items the cart needs to be loaded with.  Another person shouts "GO" and both participant pioneers load their "handcarts" with "supplies" as fast as they can in whatever manner they want.  They then use the attached string (oh, did I mention I attached 18" of string?  It's too easy just to pull the handle - where's the fun in that?) to pull their carts across the table or floor to the finish line.  The handle must not drag, and nothing can fall out of the cart.  If anything does, it must be picked up, the pioneer must return to the start, load the item back into the cart, and then continue onward once again.  It's harder than it looks!  And it's a blast!!

EASY Pioneer Bonnets
As I mentioned before, I've been on a pioneer trek, and I sewed, or helped sew, dozens of bonnets.  They are an absolute PAIN!  The interfacing in the brim is the primary culprit.  Getting it stiff enough, getting it to cooperate, turning it inside out, getting the seams flat, it is not at all fun.  Just isn't.  But I love bonnets!  They're adorable!  So I came up with a plan to make them quick and dirty.  Well, hopefully not dirty bonnets, but my methods would surely be frowned upon by my pioneer ancestors because they're far from proper!

That pesky brim being the biggest problem - let's solve it with craft foam.  That's right - craft foam.  It is the perfect stiffness, light, cool, great colors, can even be decorated - the possibilities are endless.  And the most important thing in its favor?  YOU CAN SEW ON IT!!  Yea, probably old news to some of you, but still - HELLO!  Sew on craft foam?  Sweet! You can get two brims out of one large piece of craft foam - the 12 x 18 (I think?).  Just coordinate with a cute calico of your choice, cut out the pattern (or a reasonable facsimile - it doesn't need to be exact, just that rounded shape), and you're done with the brim.

For the crown, I keep it super simple, again.  This is a fast and easy pattern, remember, not an heirloom sewing project.  I'm not edge finishing or doing any fancy work.  It's possible - I have some lovely full quality bonnets - but that's not what I'm doing here.  So, I actually made up a pattern from looking at an old doll pattern and modifying it a little, then figuring out the measurements for a child size.  Run a gathering stitch along the rounded edge from dot to dot. Then simply pull the gathering thread, and sew the right side of the fabric to the straight side of the foam brim, as shown.  You could add lace between the two for a fancier look, or rick-rack, or cording - there are many cute options to dress it up.

Sew the fabric crown to the foam brim, using a straight stitch, with the right side of the fabric facing the foam.

What the sewn inside of the brim looks like - nice and neat, eh?
To get the cute little neck ruffle in back, edge finish the raw edge however you choose.  A tiny rolled edge would be pretty.  Lace sewn on would also look nice.  Again, I was mass-producing and going for fast and easy, so I went for the quick-and-easy zig-zag stitched edge.  It looks fine too :)  On the inside, along the straight line, attach a piece of 1/4 inch elastic with a zig-zag stitch.  A casing would be the nice way to go, but the zig-zag works great and looks just as good on the outside, see?  I used a 4 1/2 inch piece of elastic, but this should be sized to fit.  the tighter the elastic, the tighter it fits on the head.

Add elastic at neck, on inside, with a zig-zag stitch that goes through the elastic, stretching to fit as you sew

How elastic faux-casing looks on outside.  

The final step is the ties.  Matching a grosgrain ribbon to the brim, folding it over a couple of times, sew pieces about 16 inches long on the inside of the bonnet at the dots, trying to catch both fabric and foam brim in a zig-zag stitch.  Go back and forth over it a couple of times to make sure it's solid - kids tug on these quite a bit, and the more solidly it joins the brim to the fabric at this juncture point, the better.

Traditionally, the ties are made from the same fabric as the bonnet.  You are more than welcome to do that.  I hate turning skinny things inside out - yup, I'm lazy like that - I'll use ribbon here, thank you!
That's it!  It's like a 20 min or less bonnet!  No interfacing!  And if you're making it for a family pioneer day event, grab some foam paint, markers, or stickers and let the girls doll up their brims to personalize them!  I can see it now - Pioneers with BLING!  
bonnet on a 4 year old

same bonnet on a 6 year old
same bonnet on a 9 year old (getting a little tight)

Note: My pattern is a rough shape - I've made a lot of bonnets and they just aren't that technical.  The thing to know is the basic shape and proportions.  If you go higher and more oblong in the circle of the crown, it doesn't add much to the size, it just adds to the poofiness at the top.  Going wider in the circle does increase the size, but another way to increase the size is to increase the circumference around the brim by adding to the length along the straight side of the pattern (not too much though - there isn't much difference between this brim and the adult one I wear).  I used the same bonnet in all of the pictures in order to show how it fits a child size 3, the same child a year later size 4, a child size 6, and a child size 9.  I think it fits the younger girls great, but I would likely increase the brim to 17 inches and the crown to 14 inches wide if I were to make one specifically for my 9 year old. Hope that makes sense :)
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