Teacup Pin Cushion Tutorial

My kids are learning to sew, so I thought that it was time that they had pincushions of their own. I’ve seen teacup pin cushions around at flea markets and craft fairs, so I thought we’d make a go of whipping up some of our own. They’re really easy and right up the kids’ alwy, patience-wise.

Teacup Pin Cushion

– 1 teacup (saucer optional)
– 1 square of cotton or cotton-blend fabric, about 3X as wide as the teacup’s top
– polyester fiberfill
– thread

Supplies Needed:
– fabric scissors
– needle
– hot glue gun & glue
– pins

1. It all starts with a teacup — but none of Grandma’s fine china! We bought ours for about $2.00 at a local charity thrift shoppe. If you’re not into tea, a coffee or espresso cup works well, or an egg cup, or even a sake glass. We even made one using a miniature terracotta pot (picked up for about $0.75 at a gardening supply store). Basically, it has to be an opaque container that you like the looks of that’s about the size of an old teacup, or smaller. You will also need to pick out a piece of coordinating fabric that’s about three times as wide as the mouth of your vessel.

1.B. OPTIONAL STEP: If you’re very crafty, you can embroider a design on your fabric at this stage.

2. Using a pair of fabric scissors, cut your fabric into a circle about three times as wide as the opening of your teacup. It doesn’t have to be perfect, since this end will be hidden inside the bottom of the cup where nobody will ever see it.

3. Using a running stitch, stitch around the outside edge of the circle, about 1cm from the edge. Use a sturdy thread, but don’t worry about the colour, since this will be hidden as well. Tie a knot at each end of the thread, but do not stitch that knot into the fabric.

4. Making sure that the fabric is inside-right, pull the thread taut to gather the fabric, but do not tie a knot. This will make a little pouch.

5. Stuff the pouch firmly with fiberfill.

6. Draw the thread as taut as possible and tie it off securely. This will create a small cushion.

7. Stuff the cushion into the teacup, making sure that the end with the stitching and the gathering is at the bottom of the cup.

8. Affix the cushion inside the cup using hot glue. I found that I got the neatest results by pushing the fabric down below the edge of the cup, and then running a bead of hot glue quickly about 0.5cm lower than the edge of the cup. Then I carefully released pressure on the cushion until it sat at the height I wanted, holding it in place while the glue dried. Otherwise, the cushion kept trying to puff much too far out of the cup.

9.B. OPTIONAL STEP: Using hot glue or by sewing, decorate the pin cushion. You can add a border of ribbon or trim around the edge of the cup to conceal the glue. Buttons, lace, small pompoms, googly eyes, felt cutouts, silk flowers… If you’re so inclined, this is a great time to be creative.

And that’s really all there is to it!

As for our last March Break craft, Thing 2 went with a more contemporary look.

Whereas I made mine in a little flower pot. I created the floral element by sticking sewing pins through little fabric flowers bought in a confetti-like pack from the dollar store.

And Thing 1 used the fabric flowers slightly differently, pinning them into place with her pincushion’s pins.

String Art Tutorial

I’ve been wanting to try this craft with my girls for a while; it is a great way to learn how to use a hammer and nails! I never did this as a child, but my little brother did, and his string art masterpiece hung in his room for years. The nice thing about this craft is that you can make it simple or complicated, depending on the skill level of the people doing it. We went with really simple, perfect for a busy day’s work!

String Art

– 1 piece of 1/2″to 3/4″ thick wood, approx 12″ by 12″ (pine preferred)
– 1 colour of acrylic paint
– 20 (or so) 1″ long common framing nails
– scraps of thin yarn or string
– sawtooth picture hanger & screws

Supplies Needed:
– fine-grain sandpaper
– paintbrush
– hammer
– wooden clothes pin
– screwdriver

1. We started with a 12″ by 12″ piece of 1/2″ pine shelving left over from an old project. Pine is inexpensive and easy to hammer nails into. Such a small piece can be often be found inexpensively (or free) off-cut from a home improvement store. If you’re not handy with a saw, most reno stores will cut wood to size if you ask.

2. Using fine-grain sandpaper, give the piece of wood a quick once-over to remove any splinters.

3. You can leave the wood unfinished (in fact, a lot of string art is done on gorgeous, rustic barn board), but my girls opted to paint theirs. Two coats of crafting acrylic turned Thing 2’s board an eye-searing pink, while Thing 1 chose a more muted lavender. Don’t forget to cover your work surfaces with paper or plastic if you care at all if it gets stained! (Graffito from the kids is optional.)

4. Nail in the nails in the pattern of your choice. My kids went for an abstract creation of their own design. However, any number of designs and shapes can be downloaded off of the Internet, printed out, and then taped onto the top of the wood. You can then nail along the edges of the design, and rip the paper away when you’re done. Alternately, you can freehand a design in pencil and then paint over the marks before you add the string.

Since the kids hadn’t done much hammering with full-sized hammers before, we used wooden clothes pins to hold the nails upright while they got them started. This keeps their fingers away from the hammer, at least until they have a little bit more precision! (It stunned Thing 1 that I could hold a nail while hammering without smashing my fingers.)

Thing 1 went with a free-form design.

Thing 2 went with a more geometric plan.

5. Tie a few knots around one of the nails, and then go to town wrapping the string around the nails!

6. If you’re planning on hanging the string art on the wall, using a screwdriver, attach a sawtooth picture hanger with screws to the top back of the piece. Alternately, it can be propped on shelf, or held up by a mini easel.

Salt Dough Creations

A friend of mine bought me a copy of the Better Homes and Gardens Treasury of Christmas Crafts & Foods for Christmas, and leafing through the project ideas therein brought back many memories of the kinds of crafts that I did when I was growing up. One of the ones that stood out the most was the salt dough Christmas ornaments. Although I never made any in the patterns suggested by this book, I did make some simple ones through Brownies and Guides, and I had a lovely little girl in a red dress as part of my ornament collection until she eventually fell apart. I thought that my kids might enjoy playing with dough that becomes a permanent creation for a change. (If your kids would basically like to do the same exercise but come away with something that they can eat, I would highly recommend Cookie Monster’s Famous Cookie Dough instead.)

Rolling out the dough and cutting it out with cookie cutters and Play Doh cutters.

I did my due Googling, and I discovered that although the style of ornament that people make has changed a bit over the years (especially when it comes to the choice of colours used), the actual technique remains the same. Multiple books and many sources on the Net stick to the basic recipe of:

– 2 cups flour
– 1 cup salt
– 1 cup water

Which you then knead together to create a stiff dough. You then cut out/shape your designs and lay them on parchment paper on a cooking tray. Advanced creations can take a long time, a lot of skill, and a great attention to detail. However, when you’re making crafts with younger children, quick and easy cookie cut-outs are the name of the game! As a bonus, since the dough is so cheap to make and is 100% biodegradable, if the kids proclaim themselves done after having made very few cutouts, it’s not too big of a deal.

Salt Dough 2//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

After shaping, you put the salt dough creations in the oven at 200°F (93°C) for… Well, that’s where directions vary. I think it all really depends on the thickness of the final pieces. I’ve seen it anywhere from two to eight hours, so I kind of guessed at three, which worked out okay. I think that what everyone agrees on is that you don’t want to bake or brown the dough, you just want to remove all the moisture.

Then the cut-outs need to be cooled on a cooling rack, which doesn’t take all that long, really, since they weren’t terribly hot in the first place. We left them overnight to hopefully remove the last of the moisture. It’s not like you have to worry about them going stale, after all.

Then it was time for paint! I have what seems like a million colours of acrylic and many different paint brushes, all from the dollar store. If you don’t have a stash of paint and want to keep costs low, stick with red, yellow, blue, black, and white. The kids can mix any colours they want with the primary ones, and it’s a good lesson in colour theory.

To be honest, my girls ran out of patience with the fiddly details, so the painting will have to be completed another day. Since I had to make dinner, I didn’t get a chance to finish painting the ones that I made either, so we’ll have to sit down and do them all together tomorrow. I really liked how the ones with the impressions turned out, though. The girls used rubber stamps, carved rolling pins, and even leaves of plants to create textures.

Of the ones that I painted, I am particularly happy some of the simplest: the Easter bunnies, made using a cookie cutter and a little ball of dough for the tails.

The next step is to seal salt dough, which I’d prefer to do with spray-on acrylic, so that will probably have to be done out in the garage once it warms up a bit. I’m told it can also be done with Mod Podge or PVA glue, both of which I own, but I’d like to test them first to see how badly they smudge. Then the ones with holes will become ornaments, and the ones without holes will have a magnet (also from the dollar store) glued on the back to become fridge magnets.

Tie Dyed Pillow Cases

Tie dyeing with the kids is really something that I prefer to do in the summer when I can throw the kids outside in their bathing suits (which are synthetic and don’t absorb dye) to minimize the mess indoors. This time of year, with temperatures hovering around freezing and snow still covering the ground, that’s not exactly an option. Instead, the girls worked in their bathing suits and socks (warm feet are important) in the kitchen, over the metal sink, and we hoped for the best.

In the spirit of keeping things as cheap as possible, we used fabric we already had — four old, plain cotton pillow cases. We also bought the dye at the dollar store. So far, this are the cheapest kits I’ve found locally, with even Walmart’s selection starting at about $11.00 for a two-colour Tulip-brand kit that only makes three items. For six colours, you’re looking at upwards of $25.00. At Dollarama, they sell their own Crafts brand three-colour kits for $4.00 apiece, and we bought two in different colours. But would these kits work as well as the more expensive ones we’d tried?

When it comes to the supplies included in the kit, I found that they were more or less the same as other brands. They contained everything we needed except the water and the plastic to wrap the fabric as it sat, which is standard. Slightly higher quality gloves would have been appreciated, since they did leak and now the kids have splotches on their hands in places, but that seems to be standard too (just like the ones that come with hair dye). The instructions were clear and concise, and even had a brief photo tutorial for how to make different kinds of designs. We used the spiral (left) and bullseye (center and right) techniques on the kids’ pillowcases. (If you need more information about how to tie dye there are a million sites out there, but the Tulip site has some great tutorials that will work with any brand of dye.)

The kit did contain soda ash, which is necessary to pre-treat the fabric to retain vibrant colours. However, the directions did say that the dyes could be used without pre-treatment, but they would come out more pastel. I let the kids choose between waiting a bit longer to dye so they could have bright colours, or to do it right away and have lighter colours, and not surprisingly they chose to go with the route that required the least amount of patience. Despite the dire warnings of the packaging and articles online, after the first rinse the colours remained vibrant (above).

After a run through the washer and dryer, the colours did fade a bit, and I expect that they will continue to do so throughout their lifetime, but I remain happy with the final product. The kids are thrilled (according to Thing 1, the pillow cases are “Awesome!”), and since the project was for them, I say it was a success. (Bottom left and top right were done in the spiral techniques, top left and bottom right were done using bullseye — more techniques here.)

I will say one thing, though: each package of three colours claims that it contains enough dye for up to eight T-shirts. I guess that could technically be true, if you were to use very small shirts, and if you didn’t want a lot of colour saturation or variation in your design. Two packs, for us, did four very saturated single-bed-sized pillow cases (which I would say are about the same size as a small adult T-shirt), with enough left over to do maybe one more. That’s five items out of two packs of dye, when it claims we could make sixteen items. So keep that in mind when you decide how many items to prep. Even so, that’s five items in six colours for $8.00, compared to Walmart’s three items in two colours for $11.00, so Dollarama remains the cheapest place in town to buy supplies for tie dye crafts.

Fairy Light Lamp Tutorial

It’s March Break, so I’m trying to keep the kids entertained without plopping them in front of screens the entire time. We’re going to try to do a craft a day, and I thought I’d share what we did and how we did it so that others can use these same techniques this week (or any time, really).

The first craft we did was a fairy light lamp. There’s no wiring required, and for safety’s sake all of the lights are LED and the power source is battery-powered. We’ve all seen a string of lights in a jar, but I thought we needed to do something to take it up a notch. If you’re working with younger children, some of these steps will need adult supervision. The end result should be an ornamental lamp or night light that the kids can be proud of! As a bonus, all of the materials can be obtained at the local dollar store, or can be made of recycled materials for free.

Since there are a few ways to do this craft, be sure to read all of the instructions first, to keep from having to re-do steps!

Fairy Light Lamp

– small sturdy cardboard box with lid
– Mason jar or recycled jar with lid
– paint
– string of 20 battery-powered LED lights (or two strings of 10)
– batteries to power the LED lights
– diffusing fabric
– small piece of card or paper (optional)
– stickers

Supplies Needed:
– pencil
– craft knife
– duct tape
– paint brush(es)
– heavy-duty scissors
– drill (if using a jar with a one-piece lid)

1. Unscrew the lid from the jar. I used a 1L Mason jar because that’s what fit best with my box, but it’s a very subjective judgement. I also liked the look of a round box, but square or rectangular is fine too. Just make sure it’s the kind of box that has a lid. Don’t worry about a colour or pattern on the box, since it will be covered later. If you want to use a wooden box, that can work too, but you’ll need heavier-duty tools to proceed with the next steps.

2. Trace the opening of the jar onto the lid of your box.

3. Using a craft knife, cut a hole along the line that you have traced. Make sure not to use the knife on a surface that you don’t want damaged, since it will make marks on whatever’s underneath the lid!

4. Make sure that the jar fits into the hole as shown. If the fit is too tight, trim off edges of the hole with the craft knife.

5. Use a few pieces of duct tape (any colour) to reinforce the cardboard around the hole on the inside of the box.

6. Paint the outside of the box. My kids chose a base coat of their favourite colour, then two coats of glitter paint in different colours. We used acrylic paint, since it is more permanent and covers better than kids’ craft paint. Because of this, we covered our table in craft paper first to protect it — and if you look at the paper under the box, you can see why.

Other options to painting include decoupage, stickers, and wrapping the box in pretty paper. No matter what method you choose, make sure that the top and bottom are done separately, since you’ll need to be able to get into the box.

7. Put the batteries into the battery pack of the light string(s). Stuff the diffusing fabric and strings of light into the jar, leaving the battery packs and some cord outside of the jar. I used a cheap tulle (a lightweight, very fine, stiff netting as my diffusing fabric, which is available at most craft stores, fabric stores, and dollar stores in the craft section. A good place to look for this kind of thing is in the Christmas clearance section. You can use a plain colour or one with a glitter pattern. Whatever you choose, the point of the fabric is to make the light from the LEDs softer, hide the cords, and keep it all in place. Arrange the fabric and lights until they are in a position that you find satisfactory. I found that it helped to do so in low lighting so I could see how the light would shine through.

8. Using the heavy-duty scissors, cut a wide slot into the flat part of the Mason jar lid. If you are using a recycled jar with a one-piece lid, using a drill make hole large enough to easily pass the light string through.

9. Cut small strips of duct tape (any colour) and use them to cover the sharp edges of the hole in the lid. This will keep little fingers and the wires from the lights from getting cut.

10. Cover the inside of the lid with a piece of coordinating-coloured duct tape. If you don’t have any, a piece of card or colour in a coordinating colour will also work.

11. Thread the light strings through the hole. If you’re using a piece of card/paper, that should be between the lid and the jar. If you’re using a one-piece lid, you should do this step before you fill the jar with the lights and fabric.

12. Using a piece of duct tape in a coordinating colour, cover most of the hole. If you’re using the card/paper layer, this tape can be any colour. This step is unnecessary if you’re using a one-piece lid.

13. Assemble the parts in the following order:

– jar
– box lid
– card/paper (optional)
– Mason jar lid, then Mason jar band OR one-piece lid

14. Put the battery packs into the bottom of the box, then flip the jar and box lid over on top of the box bottom. To turn the lights off and on, just reach inside the box and flip the switch(es). If you like your lights simple, this can be the end of this craft. My kids wanted a bit more fun, though!

15. My girls really wanted to decorate their lanterns with 3D butterfly stickers, so that’s what we did. Honestly, any kind of sticker would work, although shiny ones (especially the faux-jewel kind) would reflect the light better.

My girls made a lantern each in their favourite colours. You may notice that the jars are slightly different because they’re from different manufacturers. The kids didn’t notice, though.

The lanterns look especially nice in the dark, and they throw interestingly-patterned shadows on the wall.

I promised Thing 2 that I would post a picture of her orange and gold lantern all by itself, since I’d done so many of Thing 1’s blue and silver one already.

So there you go! I hope that your kids enjoy making these fairy light lanterns as much as mine did!

Grilled Cheese

Our household is currently in the grip of a nasty gastro bug; Thing 1’s illness started promptly at 6:00am on Friday morning, and Thing 2 woke up at 4:30am Monday morning to begin her turn. I’ll spare you all the nasty details, but nobody in our house is really thinking about cooking or thrifting or crafting at the moment. Right now we’re all just trying to take care of each other and/or minimize the effects of the bug. So here’s a picture of a meal we made up last week:

That’s a grilled cheese (lactose-free for me) and avocado sandwich, served with a salad of romaine lettuce and baby spinach and a choice of dressings. The bread is a Farmhouse Loaf that Thing 1 made in the bread machine; the recipe is on page 72 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter (2002)).

Hopefully we’ll be able to return to your regularly scheduled programming quickly.

Beef Stroganoff Recipe

I’ve been making beef stroganoff for fifteen years or so, but I hadn’t had any since a consultation with a dietician who suggested that I may be lactose intolerant. It’s been about a year since I started avoiding lactose, and my gut is much happier for it. I’m not touting this as something that everyone should try, since I know that there are a whole lot of people that tolerate lactose just fine — but sadly, I’m no longer one of them.

Lately I’ve been quite happy to discover that, in addition to the vegetarian/vegan options to milk that are out there, a few dairy companies have started to sell lactose-free versions of their products. I’ve found PC lactose-free old and marble cheddars in my local grocery store, and, for the first time just this week, Gay Lea’s lactose-free sour cream. As soon as I saw the sour cream on the shelf, I knew that I had to make some stroganoff this week.

Now, I’m not vouching for the authenticity of my stroganoff or anything. I can’t even remember where I first learned how to make it; it certainly wasn’t from someone who taught me in person. My version is the combination of a number of recipes over the years that have created what I’d consider to be a good meal for when you have a little bit of time to cook, but you still have other plans for the evening. It’s full of mushrooms and onions, but I recommend serving it with steamed veggies or a side salad to round it out. At the very least, this will add a splash of colour, since stroganoff is such a beige dish!

Beef Stroganoff
Serves 4-6 adults

In a large, deep frying pan, heat at medium-high:
2 Tbsp canola or sunflower oil
Into the heated oil, place:
1 yellow onion, chopped (about 120g before peeling & chopping)
Cook the onion gently until slightly browned, then add:
1 package of cremini mushrooms (227g)*
Cook until mushrooms begin to soften, then add:
450g steak or chopped roast chopped into bite-sized pieces with the fat trimmed off
Stir it all together, then sprinkle over the mixture:
1 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
Cook until the meat is browned on the outside and medium (pink, but not bloody) in the middle. While the meat is cooking, cook according to package directions:
2 cups of dried pasta
Traditionally stroganoff is made with broad egg noodles, but in our house we usually use penne. Rotini, fusilli, farfalle, and even elbow macaroni (pictured) also work well. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and set it aside.
Once the meat is cooked, add to the pan:
1 cup sour cream (14% or greater) (regular or lactose-free)
Optionally, you can add:
1/4 cup cream cheese (optional)**
Stir the sour cream and cheese in until they are evenly distributed and have created a sauce; the sauce will have picked up some of the browning and spice and will have turned a nice light brown.
Add the drained pasta to the pan, and stir it all together until coated. Serve!

*You can add more mushrooms (up to double as much if you like), but this is the amount that my family prefers.
**I used to make my stroganoff with cream cheese every time, since I find it’s much creamier this way, but I have yet to find a lactose-free version. So for now I make it without.