Thursday, October 28, 2010

making autumn leaves

The past several weeks, Adelaide and I have been spending many hours out and about and gathering. Acorns, chestnuts, pinecones, pretty twigs and branches, and so many beautiful Autumn leaves. It was out on one of our gathering expeditions that it occurred to me, studying the make up of a leaf, that we could possibly recreate our own leaves using a little bit of wire, paper, and paint.
To make our own Autumn leaves, we first went out on a walk all around our neighbourhood and gathered up a variety of fresh leaf samples, in all types and sizes. We brought them home and together traced about 2 dozen out onto sheets of 80 lb drawing paper. I then cut a few out, and got my daughter painting.

To paint the leaves, I had 3 bottles of acrylic paint which we had picked up at the dollar store: red, orange, and yellow. (although, really you would only need red and yellow.) I squirted a little bit of each paint colour onto individual saucers. I then cut up dollar-store sponges into 1/2" - 1" blocks, and showed Adelaide how she could dab a little paint onto each sponge and use them to dap and mix and blend colours all together to paint a leaf.

I found at first it was good to give her a big leaf to paint, so she would have lots of room to experiment and check it all out. I placed several real leaves alongside of her, and together we examined them closely. I showed her how not one leaf was a solid, single colour - each was many colours blended all together: red, yellow, orange. And I also encouraged her to try to do her best to cover all of each leaf so that no white would show, just like a real leaf.

While Addie happily painted away, I used a glue gun and wire cutters and began to cut and glue wire "spines" onto the back of each leaf. When the glue dried, I found that I could bend and shape each leaf to look quite real. With a bit of trial and error, I found that a thinner wire around 16 - 18g worked best for these leaves. I glued and collected up a bunch of paper leaves in this manner, and bent and worked the wires until they looked authentic and were ready to be painted up. As Addie finished up her first practice leaf, I was ready to pass her the leaves I had ready-to-go.

Note: After seeing how the paper leaves dried - quite solid and stiff, I think that it is important to bend your leaves into shape first before painting them. I found that if I bent the wires when the paint was wet, the paper could tear. And if I bent the wires when the painted leaves were dry, then they could crack.

Painting leaves kept Adelaide very occupied and busy for almost two hours. Together we ended up making about 15 or 20 leaves in this manner, and so it was time for a break. Leaving the leaves to dry, we headed to the forest to find a nice branch for them. By time we had returned, the leaves were mostly all dry, and I found that they had dried quite solidly - surprisingly, they weren't very fragile at all. Happy with the results, Adelaide and I selected some of the prettiest leaves and I used bits of brown florist tape - which I had purchased ahead at Micheal's - and taped leaves to the branch, one by one.

Placed all together on a branch, Adelaide's leaves really do look quite real! At the very least, they do not look like they were painted by a three-year-old. Adelaide was thrilled and we are both very happy with the results of our project.

These painted leaves are so lovely and can be used in many ways - taped onto a branch and kept in a vase as we have, or perhaps all along a branch for a thanksgiving table centerpiece. I think it would be nice for perhaps each member of a class or a family to paint their own leaf, and write their names on them to make a family tree. Or even woven into a garland for a door frame or window. All around a wreath. Or even just to keep as a single leaf, tacked to a bulletin board to keep for always. I think that it may be nice to make some more leaves in spring or summer, all green and yellow and happy.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

painting bugs with vegetables

The past week or so, I've been starting to feel quite a bit better, and so I've been working on trying to get things back to normal around here. Really simple things, like trying to get back into cooking dinner, which is something I couldn't bear at all when I was feeling so nauseous all the time.

The other thing that is forefront in my mind is to try to get my relationship with my daughter back-to-normal. Not that it's gotten horrible or anything - but I just haven't been myself the past few months and I think that it was starting to wear on her a little. I don't blame her at all, or myself really, either, but that's just what life had given us. And so I've been focusing on once again making the most of our time together, and getting our simple, loose routine back. It feels so good.

Because Adelaide is the kid who seems to focus well and enjoys working on projects, I've been taking some time to gather up craft ideas, and research and prepare simple craft kits for her. I'm collecting these ideas up, ready-to-go, in a big bin. It is my hope that by having many activities all ready for her, that maybe on days when I distracted or struggling (and I know there will be lots of these days coming) I will be able to have Addie pick a ready-to-go project out, and get her set up and going. Fingers crossed!

So the other day we awoke to a particularly nasty wet and dark day. Feeling a bit fried, I pulled out the idea bin, and after much consideration, Adelaide decided that she would like to try and paint ladybugs with vegetables - which is a project I found and adapted from the wonderful book Farmyard Tales Big Book of Things to Make and Do. This turned out to be a wonderful project, required minimal assistance on my part, and she was entertained for an entire afternoon.

To paint the ladybugs, we used one potato and one carrot. I mixed up shallow plates with tempura paint powder in red and black. I showed her as I cut potato in half, and then cut one of the halves into thirds. I poked a fork into the half potato, and showed Addie how she could use it to dip in paint and stamp many red ovals with it. She stamped several pages of ovals in this way. By time she was ready to try another type of stamp and colour, the paint from first pages had dried up.

I then poked another fork into the 1/3 of the other potato half, and showed her how to stamp on top of the red ovals to make the heads of the ladybugs with black paint. Once she had finished, we cut a carrot, and she used it to dip in the black paint and make the spots of the ladybugs. When they were dry, we added antennae with a black pencil crayon.

After making many ladybugs, Addie announced that she would like to make caterpillars, too. Her idea immediately reminded me of Eric Carle's classic children's book The Very Hungry Caterpillar and I ran and grabbed our copy of the book for inspiration. Together we saw that we could use vegetables to re-create this caterpillar, too. After poking around in the fridge, Adelaide chose a zucchini, baby carrots, and a celery stalk to make her caterpillar. She chose the zucchini for the caterpillar's body parts, celery for feet, and a baby carrot for the antennae.

Because of a little paint, paper, and vegetables, Addie and I both had really lovely afternoon. Projects like these may cost a couple of bucks and take a bit of time to think up, research, and prepare, but they truly can make the difference between an awful day, and an absolutely brilliant one.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

making on-the-go baby change kits

These days, several of my best girlfriends (and guy-friends) are expecting their first babies, and so I have been trying to come up with baby gifts that I could make myself, and would also be handy and useful. But I found that my hand-made ideas kept getting too grand and out-of-control! I finally realised that I could manageably make and give something that I found incredibly handy and used every single day when I was a new mom: on-the-go baby change kits.

When I was a overwhelmed new mom, one of my best mama friends did me a huge favour and informed me that I really didn't need a diaper bag (or a hundred other baby essentials). She told me that when she headed out with her two kids, she would just throw a diaper, some wipes, and maybe a spare onesie in her regular shoulder bag. At the time, this really was a revelation to me! I never did buy a diaper bag, but I did end up making several little change kits.

In each kit I could quickly and easily stow the items I would need while out with my little baby Adelaide : a spare diaper or two, some wipes, a change mat (love these ones: they are all we ever used, in or out of the house), and maybe a change of clothes. I would keep a few of these change kits handy and ready-to-go, and I could quickly grab one on the way out the door and toss it in whatever bag I happened to be using that day.

I used these kits pretty much every single day for several years, and I still do - but these days I keep one bag filled with snacks such as crackers, seaweed, an apple, and a drink bottle, and one filled activities such as a storybook, a child's note-book, stickers, and crayons. I rarely leave home with my daughter without them, and they really do happier afternoons out-and-about.

To make the on-the-go change kits, I followed my pattern for draw-string gift bags, but made a few minor variations: To make a 9 x 11.5" change kit, I used two pieces of 10"x13" fabric instead of one, folding, and pressing the bottom seam as the sides of the bags are also finished. I also ended up skipping step 2, and simply pinned the folded edges of two bags sides together and sewed them once this way. (If any clarification is needed: please just let me know!)

With no exposed seams, these bags have been designed to be long-wearing. and should last for many years. I often throw mine (made from 100% cotton) in the washing machine (gentle) and dryer (tumble dry low), and have found they hold up perfectly.

To give the gifts, I picked up some nice and sturdy wicker baskets and filled each with two baby change kits and a few other baby items that we've loved: a couple of wonderful board books, a bottle of our favourite baby bubble bath, and a small wooden toy. (I love wicker baskets such as these, as I find them wonderful, appealing, and so useful for storing baby supplies, children's toys, blocks, or art supplies in).

I then made up a little gift tag in adobe illustrator, explaining the kits and the idea behind them. I printed them out on my desktop printer on to this lovely heavyweight linen-canvas paper. When poking around looking for a way to attach the tags to the baskets, I was happy to discover that I could use a pushpin and tack it securely right to the basket. I happened to have many thumbtacks that I had glued vintage buttons onto a while back, and so I used them to attach the tags to the wicker baskets.

It is my hope that my new parent friends may find these little on-the-go change kits as handy and useful as I did. And perhaps someday you may make some up for your expecting friends, and they will find them handy and useful, too!