Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Sweet and Simple Cloth Beach Balls

To continue my series on handmade kids' toys, here's one of my favorite DIY toy projects.  Cloth beach balls are simple to sew, and they make adorable baby gifts.  For preschoolers, they're a soft, gentle, less-destructive ball for indoor play.  As an added bonus, due to their patchwork nature, they can be made from smaller scraps of fabric that are left over from other projects.

I discovered this project on the Purl Soho website many years ago.  This link will take you to Purl's beautiful and detailed tutorial, including templates to make three different sized beach balls.

When I followed the Purl tutorial the first time, I came across one challenge.  The instructions suggested cutting the center circle from cotton fabric, folding the edges under, and then hand stitching it onto the ball.  This turned out to be easier said than done!

Here is the first ball that I made for a sweet friend's baby boy.  Despite my best efforts, the blanket stitch around the central circle came out looking more than a little homemade!

As a scandalous side note, the plaid fabric was actually snipped from an ill-fitting sundress.  Sorry, Ann T., but crafting trumps fashion!  And as I've said in past posts, when you think like a Martian, you don't see tablecloths, pillowcases, dresses, or curtains.  You just see fabric!

I made another beach ball for a sweet baby girl.  That time, I used fleece for the center circle.  I cut the edges of the circle with pinking sheers to reduce fraying, and then hand stitched it onto the ball.  As you can see from the photo, I use the term "circle" loosely!

I made the ball below for my daughter around five year ago from mismatched fabric scraps selected purely for their "fun factor".  If my memory serves, an oxford shirt may have been sacrificed for the black and white gingham, and the purple fleece came from an outgrown sweatshirt.

Again, I cut the sweatshirt fleece with pinking sheers, and I stitched it on "wrong-side-out" for the center circle.  I preferred the texture of the underside of the fleece fabric.  Reversed fabric can be used in home decorating too, as I discussed in this post.

If you'd like to make a cloth beach ball but don't have fabric scraps on hand, Amazon offers some neat fabric bundles like this one by Amy Butler.  You may want to compare dimensions with the Purl template prior to placing an online order, as some bundle shapes (eg: smaller squares) might not work for this project.

My daughter's favorite way to play with this ball was to sit at the bottom of the stairs, throw the ball up to a higher stair, and laugh as it gently bounced back down to her.  Despite this ball's involvement in more than one pillow fight, it has never been implicated in any bumped noses or broken vases a la Peter Brady.  What's not to love!?

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Painted Pistachio Shell Cars & A Free Printable

We're snowed in here in North Carolina, so I thought that this would be a great time to continue my series about handmade toys that I have made for my daughter over the years.  If you're snowed in with your kiddos, you can whip up a fleet of these tiny, adorable pistachio shell cars in no time.  I've also provided a free, printable PDF of the backdrop that you and your kids can color!

Back in 2012, when my daughter was three years old, two things happened simultaneously:

1. My family purchased--and devoured--an enormous bag of pistachio nuts.

2. I discovered the wonderful, printable paper toys on the Made By Joel website. 

The synergy of these two life-altering events inspired me to dream up this easy craft project that uses pistachio shells along with a printable backdrop for play.

For an investment of just a few minutes of my time and a few pennies worth of craft paint, I created a fun set that my daughter really enjoyed.  Vroom, vroom!

Are you ready to make some cars of your own? 

How to Make the Cars:

Empty shells from pistachio nuts (washed out and dried)
Craft paint (ie: acrylic paint) in several colors, including white
Small paint brushes (Q-tips could work in a pinch!)
Black fine point Sharpie marker
Toothpicks--flat or round will work
Old clothing or art smocks to protect kids' clothes


1. Gather your materials, cover your work surfaces, and put art smocks on your kids (acrylic paint will stain fabric and clothing).

2. Using small paint brushes and colored craft paint, cover the pistachio shell halves with paint and allow them to dry.  You won't need to wait very long; acrylics dry quickly!

3. Use a black Sharpie marker to draw on the tires.

4. Use a toothpick and white craft paint to add hubcaps (a single dot of paint) and windows (the side of the toothpick point is useful for "smearing" the windows on).

5. Use a toothpick to add bumpers if desired.  I used a grayish purple color for mine.

6. Allow to dry, and play, play, PLAY!

How to Make the Printable Paper Backdrop:

White letter sized printer paper or card stock (the latter will stand up better)
Crayons, colored pencils, and/or markers for coloring (yellow hilighters are great for "glowing" windows)

1. Download the free, printable PDF of the "Pistachio Lane" backdrop from my website.  You can find it by clicking here (no sign up is required).  If you don't see the link, try refreshing the page.
2. Print it out on your printer.
3. Color it in using colored pencils, crayons, and/or markers.
4. Fold at the edge where the houses meet the driveways, as pictured.
5. Play, play, PLAY!

At the risk of craft-bragging, I love that this project is green and eco-friendly, inexpensive, quick, easy, and kid-friendly!  It would be a great group craft activity for a kids' party or even a summer camp.  As an added plus, the finished product will take up very little storage space in your home.  However, there are two safety issues to consider.  First, due to the choking hazard, this project (and the resulting toy) is best suited for kids age 3 and up.  Also, pistachio nuts are an allergen for some children, so please exercise caution during playdates.

After you have made your first set, there's a lot of room to expand on this idea.  Maybe you'll print several copies of "Pistachio Lane" and connect them side by side to make a larger neighborhood?  Or you can draw a whole paper downtown that connects to "Pistachio Lane", with a library, ice cream store, or other businesses!

Maybe your little one might enjoy drawing his or her own backdrop (including a "parking lot"), as my daughter did when she was three.

Or maybe you'll be inspired to create other things out of pistachio shells, craft paint, and a Sharpie.  How about a tiny set of ladybug buddies that are just the right size to slip into your pocket to keep your kiddo entertained on an airplane or in a restaurant?

Or a minuscule mouse with his own paper wedge of Swiss cheese? The harsh lighting in this photo gives it a "crime scene" effect; maybe the cheese was actually stolen from some other mouse's Swiss account?!

Have fun, and happy crafting!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Make A Quick and Easy January Wreath

After taking down my Christmas wreath this year, I realized that I didn't have a "January-Appropriate" wreath for my front door, so I decided to make one.  I relied on a principle that I apply often in my design work--and in life in general.  Here's the principle: assume that you already have everything that you need.  Operating from this assumption boosts my creativity.  (Also, it's fun, and it doesn't require clipping coupons.)  If you have a winter scarf, a wreath, and some wire, you can make a similar January wreath in about 15 minutes.

First, I dug in my coat closet looking for inspiration, and I unearthed a blue and white striped scarf.  Perfect!  Next, I needed a wreath form.  This project could work with an artificial pine wreath, a grapevine wreath, a straw wreath, a burlap wreath, or really any wreath or wreath-like object that's plain enough to play nicely with your chosen scarf.  (The links above will take you to see 18" wreaths on Amazon, though you may need to select one with a smaller diameter depending upon the length of your scarf.)

As luck would have it, I had on hand a simple, artificial pine, 18 inch wreath bedecked with only a few despondent pinecones.  I removed the pinecones (reserving the floral wire that had connected them to the wreath), and I was left with this blank, pseudo-pine slate:

I wanted a jaunty knot in my scarf, but I knew from personal experience (ie: from wearing this scarf) that real scarf knots are bulky and awkward.  This situation called for a "faux knot".  I wasn't sure how to create one, but I decided to experiment.  I lay my scarf out so that one end overlapped the other:

Then I used a piece of wire to "bunch" one end of the scarf around the other.  In the photo below, end #1 lies in a straight line through the "tunnel" created by the wire-gathered loop in end #2.

Once "Operation Jaunty Knot" had been successfully accomplished, I lay the scarf out on my wreath to estimate how many gathers would look best.  The faux knot allowed me to adjust the length a little if needed.

I had 6 pieces of floral wire left over from the pinecones, so I decided to use one piece to attach the faux knot to the wreath and the other 5 to create the 6 "bunched" sections of scarf.  If you don't have floral wire on hand, you can use a series of twist ties connected end to end, thread, yarn, dental floss, twine, ribbon, zip ties, or whatever you have on hand.  Be creative, and trust that you have what you need.  

I accordion-pleated the scarf wherever I wanted to connect it to the wreath, and then I wrapped it tight with wire.

Here's a photo of what the wreath looked like when it was halfway finished.  If you're working with a repeating pattern, you can use the fabric repeat to help space your "gathers".  Or you can wing it.  It's only a wreath!

Within 15 minutes, I was finished!  The wreath formerly known as "Christmas" had been successfully transformed into a wintry January wreath.

Now, it hangs on my front door inviting guests to come inside and get cozy:

Happy New Year from The Red Chair Blog! 

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

DIY Play "Cakes" from Your Recycle Bin!

In honor of summer vacation, I decided to write a series sharing some homemade toys that I have made for and with my daughter over the years.  It's funny: she has plenty of store bought toys, and yet she has always gravitated most to the homemade ones (and she often creates her own).  Maybe we humans are just hardwired to be drawn to items crafted by loving, local hands?

We made these pretend "cakes" several years ago with plastics from our recycle bin and craft supplies that we had on hand.  They are so fun and easy to make; the possibilities are endless! Whether globbed with glitter, crusted with confetti, or piled with pom-poms, these cakes will never fall!  They're perfect for pretend play (bakery, anyone?), and I think that they would also make adorable DIY props for portrait photography.

In lieu of a tedious step-by-step tutorial that will trigger traumatic memories of your last visit to the DMV, here's a photo that breaks down one "cake" into its "ingredients":

Basically, the "cake" can be made from an overturned sour cream container, Greek yogurt container, deli container, Parmesan container, or similar-sized plastic container.  The "cake stand" can be made from anything wide and flat--such as an oatmeal lid or small Styrofoam plate--paired with an overturned plastic cup, large cap (eg: mouth wash), or one of those little round take-out containers used for salad dressings and salsa.

You will need hot glue and a hot glue gun to assemble the larger components and to add the 3-dimensional decorations, such as pipe cleaners and pom-poms.  Dollar Tree is an affordable source for these embellishments if you're on a budget.  For the record, I think the "cake stands" exponentially increase the cuteness factor here, if we're getting scientific about it.

When we did this project, my daughter was around 4 years old.  My job was hot gluing, and my daughter did the painting and decorating.  If I were to attempt this project with a larger group of kids, I would use hot glue to pre-glue a bunch of "cakes" onto "cake stands", drape every kid in an art smock, and then let them loose with acrylic craft paint, Elmer's glue, ribbon, felt, scissors, silk flowers, sequins, and paper confetti (perhaps pausing to let the paint dry before gluing on the other decorations).

I have a friend whose only daughter is now grown.  That friend once told me that she used to refer to pretend play as, "The Dreaded 'P'" when her daughter was young, because pretend play can sometimes feel like work to adults!  Her daughter would rush into the house after preschool and breathlessly call, "Mommy, Mommy, can we play 'The Dreaded 'P' now?"

If you have young kids and struggle sometimes with "The Dreaded 'P'", here's an idea for a fun way to play with these pretend cakes together.  Have your little one pretend to be the shopkeeper (use play money if you want to incorporate stealth math), and you can play the silly characters coming into the bakery in urgent need of cakes for a variety of ridiculous reasons.  When we played "bakery", my default characters were usually a cowboy, a teenage skateboarder, a wealthy lady (complete with my embarrassing attempt at a British accent), a baby (who always finagled free baked goods), and (my daughter's favorite) an elderly lady who had misplaced her glasses and believed she was in the pet store.

Have fun and be silly with this fun, faux food!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Habitat for Humanity Restore Find: Cane and Leather Chairs from The Plaza Hotel in NYC

While running errands, I popped into the Habitat for Humanity Restore in Cary, NC.  It's a great source for affordable plantation shutters, and it was also the source of the hollow core door that I transformed into a closet craft desk and blogged about in this post.  One cliche is true about the Restore: you never know what you'll find there!

This pair of matching cane and leather chairs is a case in point.  They caught my eye as soon as I walked through the door.  It was clear even from a distance that they were quality pieces, and while I was in the store, I noticed that virtually all of the shoppers who walked in stopped to gawk at the chairs while stroking their chins with cartoon-character-like intensity.

The chairs are cool in their own right, with intricate carved details, nailhead trim, intact caning, and comfortable, welted leather cushions.  The caning alone would be enough to give these guys the Martha Stewart Seal of Approval for being simultaneously current and timeless.  But they're extra cool because of their history: they once furnished the Plaza Hotel in NYC.  Pretty neat!

At $700 for the pair, the price may seem steep to the typical resale shopper, but when you consider that you'd pay around $500 for a mediocre armchair from a budget retail source, $350 for a well-made chair with a cool history is not a bad deal!

I love the lines on these chairs, and I think that they could also be reinvented with white paint and taupe linen upholstery if someone wanted to boldly eschew historical preservation and give them a cottage look.  In their current form, they'd work well in a traditional, masculine style office, library, or sitting room.  If you happen to have a room like that in need of a pair of chairs, I suggest that you put down that Hemingway novel, change out of your red velvet smoking jacket, and get yourself down to the Habitat for Humanity Restore right away!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Creative 4th of July Decorating Ideas Using Household Items

Tonight, on the eve of the 4th of July, I thought that it would be fun to come up with some easy, creative, "outside-of-the-box" ideas to share with you to help you decorate for the 4th of July--or any patriotic celebration--using 15 different household items.

Need to make your home patriotic in a flash?  Then get ready to raid your house for unexpected decor items!  If you think like a Martian when you're decorating for the Fourth, you'll discover that you'll have much better luck finding items in your home that are red, white, OR blue than items that are red, white, AND blue!

To create the vignette below, I raided the toy box, the kitchen drawers, and the bookcase.

Household Item #1: Cookie Cutters
Dig through your baking drawer to find your star-shaped cookie cutters from Christmas time and incorporate them into your decor.  They're ba-ack!  Bells could work as well (think: Liberty Bell).

Household Item #2: Dish Towels or Cloth Napkins
If you've got dish towels or cloth napkins in red, white, or blue, you can arrange a vignette on top of them on a console table, shelf, or mantel, or you can arrange them down the center of the table as a makeshift patchwork table runner. If you have lots of them, you can hang them on a long ribbon to make a banner.

Household Item #3: Toys and Alphabet Blocks
I was lucky to have some vintage toys on hand when I put together this vignette, but current toys would be equally fun.  Toy trucks and wagons in patriotic colors work great as well.  Building blocks offer versatility. The ones shown here are from my daughter's Uncle Goose Classic ABC Block set that she's had since she was a baby.  You can see the same blocks incorporated into a Valentine's Day post here.
Household Item #4: Books
Raid your bookcase for red, white, or blue books, and use stacks of them around your house to vary the heights of items in your vignettes.

Household Item #5: Chistmas Ornaments
Got any red, silver, or gold stars in your giant, plastic bin full of Christmas decorations?  Let 'em shine again for Christmas in July!  The red stars shown here were actually Christmas ornaments marked down to pennies at Big Lots long after Christmas had passed.

Household Item #6: Postage Stamps
Ok, I know it's unlikely that very many of my readers are philatelists (postage stamp collectors or aficionados), but I'll admit that I still have my childhood stamp collection. (Yes, clearly I was always one of the cool kids.  Why do you ask?)  My collection came in handy here as the source of these American flag postage stamps.

Household Item #7:  Ribbons
Every home needs a big Ziploc bag full of ribbons.  Our home has one, and it seems like we pull ribbons out of that bag multiple times a week to wrap gifts, wind around flower vases, tie back my daughter's hair, or incorporate in some other way into a seasonal display.  If you usually throw ribbons away when you receive gifts, consider hanging onto them.  They don't take up much space at all, and they're a great way to add a pop of seasonal color.  My daughter's friends think that our ribbon bag is the coolest toy in the house, as they can use the ribbons to create "wands".

Household Item #8: Milk Glass Vases
What's not to love about milk glass vases?  They can be found at thrift stores for as little as 50 cents, and they hold more visual space than clear glass.  The milk glass urn above was 99 cents and holds stars and a small stick flag.

Household Item #9: Spools of Red, White, and Blue Thread
If you think that spools of thread aren't thematically-appropriate for the 4th of July, then I think you're forgetting about a nice lady named Betsy Ross.  Remember her?  She sewed the first American flag?  Which, I presume, required...thread! So, go dig through your sewing kit and get some spools, and incorporate them into a vignette.  Above, I've put the thread in one of my Anchor Hawking mini trifle bowls, which I use all of the time, both for decorating and for homemade yogurt parfaits.

Household Item #10: Old Blue Jeans
Worn denim lends itself well to decorating for the Fourth.  Here, I used pinking sheers to cut the cuff off of an old pair of blue jeans, wrapped it around a plant pot, and finished it off with a red and white ribbon.

Household Items #11 and #12: Scrapbook Paper and Paint Swatches
To make this star collage art, I used a small Recollections brand star-shaped punch from Michael's Crafts to cut stars from scapbook paper (blues), printer paper (white), and a paint swatch (red).  This close-up photo makes me smile; I wasn't wearing my glasses when I glued the stars down, and at the time, I congratulated myself for lining them up so straight....

Household Item #13: Tactile Letters
I bought a full set of tactile letters for my daughter when she was first learning the alphabet.  Now that she's devouring chapter books, the letters come in handy for decorating!  Note to self: find the lower case "y"!

Houshold Items #14 and #15: Clothing Items
Cherished baby clothes can be popped into a frame for a unique, seasonal conversation piece.

I wore the little monogrammed sailor dress on the right when I was a baby.  Apparently, this dress was popular with baby girls living in San Francisco in the 1970's, as the identical dress on the left was personalized for my dear childhood friend, Terra, when she was a baby.

Hats add a 3 dimensional element that can be fun to incorporate into your decor.  Hang them on the wall, or hang them on the back of a chair.  The cheerful, red straw hat above is one that my mom brought when she came to visit last year for the 4th of July.

So there you have it: creative ways to decorate for the Fourth--or any patriotic occasion--with ordinary household items!

Have a little more time to plan ahead?  How about creating a flag in your garden with flowers for the 4th next year?  I snapped this photo at Koka Booth Amphitheater when I went to see the fireworks there in 2013.

Happy 4th of July!

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

French Vegetable Chart

Look what I found for under $5!  Technically, this pretty "Le Jardin" garden vegetable chart is sold as "wrapping paper", but seriously, who--besides maybe Darth Vader--would condemn this pretty paper to the fate of being torn up and thrown away?

This frame-worthy 20 x 28 inch sheet of "Le Jardin" wrapping paper from Cavallini Papers ($4.25 on Amazon) is a great value, especially when you consider how many "Cool Points" it racks up:

1. Uuber vintage (10 Cool Points)
2. Botanical (10 Cool Points)
3. Cottage style (10 Cool Points)
4. Farmhouse chic (10 Cool Points)
5. Includes escarole and other Martha-Stewart-Approved veggies (10 Cool Points)
6. Printed on archival paper from Italy (100 Cool Points)
7. Includes French words (1,000 Cool Points)

That's 1,150 Cool Points for less than 5 dollars.  Talk about value!  If you've got 5 minutes to invest in popping this "wrapping paper" into a frame (the one pictured above was from a thrift store), you will have yourself a darling new addition to your kitchen or dining room!  Bon Appetit!

Note: Though I would have shouted about this cool paper from the rooftops anyway, I'm required to let you know that I'm a member of Amazon Associates, and if you click the link in this post and you buy one of these cooler-than-a-Popsicle Le Jardin posters from Amazon, I may receive enough money to buy some portion of one stick of chewing gum. In legal language:  “The Red Chair Blog is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.”