Making Notes: Football Supporter Gift Set

There are quite a few football supporters in my family. As you will know if you have read other of my blog posts, I even joined them for a while. And if you are a true follower of these pages, you will also know that a few years ago I had the crazy idea of making all my Christmas presents.

One of the presents I made, for those insane people who like to spend afternoons and evenings out in the cold, was a “Football Supporter’s Survival Kit” containing a selection of items to make the whole experience more bearable.

Recently I have been making some customised bits and pieces to sell in the shop at my local football club, and with Christmas coming up a re-visiting of the Survival Kit seemed like a good idea.

Here’s what went in:
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And here’s the label which (hopefully) makes sense of that rather random selection:
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The stress ball is one I made, in the team colours – you can find the instructions elsewhere on this blog (I’m determined to make you read it all!) but you could use a bought one, maybe even a football-shaped one. You could also add a handwarmer – and for grown-ups a miniature bottle of something to make the hot chocolate even tastier. Oh, and I have just remembered that in the original pack I included a pack of throat lozenges “for when you have shouted yourself hoarse.”

Anyway, I’m sure you can come up with your own ideas – and the cheesy lines to go with them, of course.

The football club handily had some branded mugs to package it all in, and if your footie fan supports a major team you can probably find a mug for them too. But if not, no matter. The original sets I made were packed in a random box that I covered with plain paper. I printed out the logo of the favoured team – with the good old black and white printer – and I coloured it in by hand.

It’s simple, relatively cheap, mostly useful, and can be personalised – as far as I am concerned, that makes it the perfect present. And I’m hoping the football fans down at the local Club shop agree.
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Making Notes: Halloween Ghost Lollies

In case you didn’t notice, it was Halloween this week.

I don’t quite know how I feel about the increasing popularity of this occasion. Most of the time I am just annoyed that all the Halloween stuff in the shops is taking up valuable space that could be given over to Christmas goodies. But my five-year-old son has been talking about Halloween for weeks now, so I felt obliged to make an effort in some way.

Which meant that 31st October found us setting off for the mean streets of South London to do a spot of Trick or Treating with some friends. And we took with us my contribution to the pot of treats on offer for callers to their house – Ghost Lollies.

Here’s what they are made from:
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(that's lollies, circles of white fabric cut from an old shirt, a pen, and some wool, with scissors to cut)

I'm not going to spell out how these elements are put together, I'm sure you can work it out!

And this is the finished product:
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I have to say, they went down a storm.

And I know I’m giving you this information a bit late, but if you file this away then maybe next year you too can have the most popular house in the street!

Making Notes: Button Push Pins (part 2)

Just in case you were wondering how (or indeed if) I managed it, here are the Button Push Pins all packaged up and ready to sell:

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I used some polystyrene to stick the pins into, cut into squares, and I printed out an image of a cork board surface to cover it. The whole thing is then slipped into a cellophane bag (I get through hundreds of those things, in all shapes and sizes!)

I think they look pretty cool, and I sold quite a few of them at a Craft Fair on Saturday. Which meant I *had* to go to the button shop on Monday and buy some more!

Colour Me Happy

I love my colour printer.

For years we have had a black and white laser printer. It works fine, has lasted a long time, and is economical to run. But it was rather limiting when it came to crafts.

So when we moved house last year, and I acquired a work room of my own, I graciously allowed my husband to have the laser printer in his office. I, meanwhile, emptied out my money box and bought myself a swanky new colour printer. It is a thing of beauty, sitting unobtrusively on the corner of my desk and trilling into life when I send it a job (wirelessly, no less). It wasn’t cheap, and I am in denial about how much the cartridges cost, but it gives me enormous pleasure every time I use it. And it has greatly increased the scope of my labelling and packaging.

For example, last year my Christmas wish bracelets looked like this:
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But now I have this little gem:
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I have come up with these:
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Okay, I know I have probably got a bit overexcited and gone too far the other way. But it’s definitely an improvement. And maybe by next year I will have found the happy medium.

Making Notes: Button Push Pins

I have lots of buttons. See:

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Some of them are ones I have bought specially for things I make. Some are ones I have cut off clothes I no longer wear. Some, I suspect, have been handed down from my mother and grandmother. But my button collection exploded last Christmas (or maybe even the one before) when I happened to mention to my husband that buttons are really expensive and he might like to buy me some as a present.

Well, he bought a job lot! Which was nice, except that too many of them were black, and not enough of them were matching pairs or trios. So I have struggled a bit to find uses for them.

Then the other day, loitering in a stationery shop, as I often do, I saw some drawing pins and realised that they could be cheered up by the addition of a button. I’ve since googled of course and discovered that I am not the first person to do this. But that doesn’t matter – there are, after all, no new ideas.

So I tipped all my buttons onto my desk and spent a happy hour sorting out sets of five. And today I have spent another hour or so sticking buttons onto drawing pins.

I used plain, cheap drawing pins – the golden type that you find in most offices and schools, which break your nails when you try to pull them out of a notice board. These pins have a slightly rounded head, and some of the buttons aren’t completely flat on the back either, so I decided that silicone glue would be the best option for keeping the two together – on the basis that it would fill up any gaps.

I tested my plan with a set earlier in the week, and they seem to be pretty strongly attached – certainly firm enough to cope with normal use.

So here’s my little collection of button pin sets:

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I will leave them to set for a couple of days. When they are completely secure I will probably have to take a scalpel to some of them to clean up the results of over-zealous gluing. And then they will be done – a simple and relatively cheap little craft.

Now I just need to work out how on earth I am going to package them!

A Dream of an Idea

I’m sure every parent is familiar with the phrase “I had a bad dream”.

We first encountered this problem about a year ago, when our little one was coming up to 4 years old.  Every so often, the patter of his little feet at 2am would announce his presence in our bedroom, where he would explain that he couldn’t sleep because of the bad dreams.

My solution was simple: give him good dreams instead.

And it worked.  All I had to do was tuck him back into his bed and reel off a short list of some of his favourite things to give him something to think about that would banish those bad dreams.  It was easy for the first couple of times – it took me no time at all to come up with Buzz Lightyear, a rollercoaster, ice cream, and a christmas tree.  But at 2am my brainpower is somewhat limited, and after a few nights of this I was running out of ideas.

So the “Dream Box” was born.

I typed up a list of as many of his favourite things as I could think of – TV characters, real people, food, places, and things.  I laminated the list and cut it up into individual words, which I put into a box that had once contained some kind of conference freebie and was waiting in my drawer for its opportunity to be reused.  Then I just decorated it with a few stickers.

Dream Box

It was a bit rough and ready, but it did the job.  And continues to do so.  Every night at bedtime we choose five dreams.  Sometimes we make up a little story with them.  This was last night’s selection:

Dreams

So now I have decided to share the dreams, by making Dream Boxes to sell in my Folksy Shop.  They are rather more attractive than the original, and I can personalise them to include the recipient’s favourite things.

Here’s the new improved Dream Box:

It’s available to order from www.folksy.com/shops/jumbleshell

Just don’t tell my son, or he’ll be wanting a new shiny one too!

Making Notes: Bath Bombs

I had seen instructions for making bath bombs before.  But I was always put off by the danger of premature fizzing – the part in the instructions where you have to spray on just enough water to make it all stick together but not enough to set off the reaction that should only happen in the privacy of your own bathroom.  So I was delighted to come across this variation.

Ingredients:
– 180g Bicarbonate of Soda
– 60g Citric Acid
– 3-5ml Essential oils
– (optional) flower petals
– (optional) a few drops of food colouring

Equipment:
– Ice Cube Tray – the bendy sort
– Mixing bowl (one you won’t want to use for food afterwards)
– Spoon (ditto)
– (optional) Plastic Dropper/Pipette

This makes enough to fill a normal sized square ice tray, with a little left over.  I mostly use one from IKEA which has 16 holes that are a flowery shape.   I’ve also done star shaped ones, although they were a bit trickier – it’s best to choose a shape without thin parts which could break off.

The ratio of bicarbonate to citric acid is a straightforward 3:1 so you can increase or decrease quantities to fit different size moulds so long as you retain that ratio.

And all you do is mix the two powders together before adding the essential oil and the food colouring, if desired, a little at a time (which is where the pipette comes in handy), stirring it in well.   You can also add dried flower petals such as lavender or rose, if that is appropriate for the oil you have chosen.

Then just press the mixture into the moulds, very firmly.  You will be surprised at how much you can fit into those tiny holes when you press it down really hard.

Leave it for a good few hours – I normally wait overnight – then carefully turn them out.   They will have taken on enough moisture from the air to make them stick together without starting to fizz.

I made loads of these for Christmas and can’t believe I don’t have a photo of any.  I made them in the shape of stars, with some cosmetic-grade glitter sprinkled into the moulds first so they came out sparkly.  Then I put them into a (clean) coffee jar, decorated it with gold glass painted stars, and added a ribbon and a label.    I used a ready made christmassy oil blend of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, orange and pine, which saved me having to work out the right mixture myself.

I’m not sure if this no-added-water method would work for big bath balls, but it’s certainly simple and effective for these smaller ones.  My four-year-old can even make his own, with just a little supervision and plenty of blue food colouring!

Making Notes: A Load of Balls!

I first came across this method of making balls at the Latitude Festival last year, where Cambridge Community Circus were running workshops for kids. They were making juggling balls, but the finished product also works quite well as a stress ball, and I even used one to go with a set of skittles I made.

Skittles made from yoghurt drink bottles and Kinder Egg middles, with bird seed balloon ball and washing up tablet box

You will need:
– balloons
– bird seed (the small round kind – I found it sold as budgie seed)
– scissors
– a jug
– a tray with sides, or a roasting pan (optional)
– dustpan and brush (almost certainly)

Begin by tipping some seeds into the jug. I tend to do this, and the next few steps, over a roasting pan or high-sided tray, to catch any stray seeds.

Cut the necks off a couple of balloons (don’t throw the necks away).  You can use balloons of the same colour, or different colours, depending on what effect you want.

Carefully pour seeds from the jug into one of the balloons. If you can recruit a helper to hold the balloon upright for you, the process will become much easier. When it’s full, take the other balloon and put your seed-filled ballon inside it, facing the opposite way, so that the second balloon covers up the neck hole of the first balloon. You might need to trim a little from the neck hole on the second ballon so that it fits snugly.

You now have a basic seed-filled ball.

If you just want a simple juggling ball for practising your own circus skills, then you can stop there  (although if this is your plan you might want to add an additional step: put the seeds into the corner of a small sandwich bag and tie a knot in it, before adding the first balloon layer – that way you are less likely to get any spillage).

But in my experience, a ball made with just two balloon bodies like this has a tendency to settle into a sort of lemon shape, and that bugged me enough to make me fiddle about with it in search of improvements.

I have found that using the leftover neck pieces as further layers helps to make a much more robust (and spherical) sphere. Cut off the very end part of the neck, which has the little rollover, and simply stretch the remaining tube over your ball, covering up the baggy ends that cause the lemon tendency.  You might need to trim the ends of the neck further in order to get a snug fit.  You can add as many layers as you want, until you are happy with the strength and shape of your ball.

To make up a  juggling ball kit I put three balls inside an old tea bag box which I covered in patterned paper, and added a set of instructions printed from the internet.

Juggling Kit

Making Notes: Sock Monkeys

This is probably one of the more ambitious items on my Christmas present list, but it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I expected, and I quickly got hooked.

I first saw a sock monkey just a few years ago, although apparently they have been around in America since the 1930s. It was love at first sight, and I couldn’t wait to make one of my very own. I looked around for patterns and instructions and hints and tips, and finally decided I was ready.

This is the pattern I use for cutting the socks*:

Sock Monkey Cutting Pattern

*Other methods of cutting are available. In particular some (possibly more authentic) versions make a longer tail by using the full length of the sock, but that must also make the arms thinner. Personally I think the half tail length is sufficient, particularly when using adult sized socks, but it’s an option to bear in mind.

Now some clever people could no doubt work out exactly how to put their monkey together just using the diagram above. But I am not that good at sewing, so I searched some more and found this excellent step-by-step tutorial. There is a tremendous amount of detail here, which I found extremely helpful. Even after making a number of pretty successful monkeys I still went back to the tutorial every so often to double-check things like the positioning of the nose and arms.

There’s not much I can add, but I do have a few tiny tips:

  • You don’t need a sewing machine to make a sock monkey. I sew all mine by hand, it doesn’t take long.
  • Stripes can be a bit intimidating when you are just starting out.  Although it might help you to line things up it also means you can tell when they don’t!
  • Don’t forget that any patterns on the sock will be upside down once you make it into a monkey. I have made one monkey (see below) using patterned socks, and I did manage to work out how to amend the cutting out in order to stop the flamingoes from standing on their heads, but I wouldn’t make a habit of it.
  • I think it’s worth using decent quality socks. They tend to make the finished article feel softer and cuddlier and are also more forgiving of any little stitching slip ups.
  • In fact, it’s worth using decent quality everything. Your sewing experience and your finished article will be so much nicer if you have sharp scissors, good quality thread and specialised soft toy stuffing.

My Sock Monkey Gallery

Sock Monkey the First
My first ever Sock Monkey

This was my first ever attempt at a Sock Monkey, and the fact that it came out pretty well says something for how easy it is to do. I went for spots rather than stripes, and a contrasting heel and toe. This wasn’t top quality though, made with cheap socks and some stuffing I pulled out of a cushion on my sofa because I was too impatient to wait until I could get to a haberdashers to buy the real thing.

Stripey Sock Monkey
Stripes

There were a few more monkeys between the first and this one, so by now I felt able to cope with stripes. This was made for my teenage niece so I used brightly coloured socks from one of her favourite shops. It does look a bit on the thin side – I have a tendency to under-stuff – but in this case it helps stripey monkey to fit into my niece’s suitcase while she is off travelling.

Mini Sock Monkey
Baby Sock Monkey

A tiny sock monkey made using baby socks, for 12-18 months I think. This was made for an adult, but would also be great for a baby (although for safety you would have to use something other than buttons for eyes – small pieces of felt can work well.)

Our Wedding in Sock Monkeys

The ultimate sock monkey creation: our family as sock monkeys. This represents our wedding, and the groom monkey is actually made out of the socks my husband wore at our wedding. The eyes are buttons from the cuffs of his wedding jacket. (The hat was a misguided attempt to lighten it up a bit, and has since been lost.) The bride monkey is patterned with flamingoes because we were married at the Flamingo Hotel (that’s the one I had to reverse the cutting pattern for.) And the baby monkey is our little boy, who was at our wedding too (oops!)

Now it’s time for you to give it a try – but be warned, once you start, you won’t be able to stop.

Here’s Some I Made Earlier

Last Christmas a lot of the presents we gave were handmade (by me.)  In fact, most of them were.

I don’t quite know where the idea for giving only handmade gifts came from.  It might have been that I was feeling disillusioned with the whole Christmas shopping experience.   In the run up to Christmas, shops are full of things that no-one really wants or will ever use, many of them specifically created to fill non-existent gaps in people’s stockings.  Much as I love shopping, I can’t get excited by spending money on something that will end up gathering dust in the back of someone’s cupboard.

It may also have been partly prompted by a desire to keep our credit card bill at a manageable level.

But mostly it was because I enjoy making things, and I kept coming across good ideas.  I won’t deny that it was a massive undertaking, beginning in August and only completed – in a bit of a panic – just before the day itself (by which time it had become clear that making my own wrapping paper was probably a step too far.)

It was hard work, very time consuming, but ultimately quite satisfying, and – I think – appreciated.

Behold the fruits of my labours:

Presents
Handmade Presents Christmas 2010

In traditional left-to-right, top-to-bottom fashion, you should be able to see: skittles, colouring books, photo calendars, story books, a cookbook with spice mixes, puzzle books, bath fizzers, flavoured vodkas, marmalade, cupcake flannels, juggling balls, taggie blanket, jingle cube, handmade cards, photos, paper wallets, pen pots, apron, car seat tidy, “moment of calm” bags, seed paper shapes, cookie mixes, mobile phone holder, book safe, sewing kit, handbag bra, folding bag, pints of socks, curry mixes, shortbread, fish seeds, stress ball, record bowls, sock monkeys, surprise balls, and a ring pull bracelet.

If you feel inspired and want to get started early for Christmas 2011, keep watching.  I’ll be posting links, photos, instructions and ideas for some of these creations anon.